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The Farm Team: Weiner Desires Move From the Hill to the Hall

Second in a three-part series

For Democrats eager to capture the lone Republican seat in the 13-Member New York City Congressional delegation, the future is now.

The recent political implosion of Rep. Vito Fossella (R) has given Democrats a rare opportunity to compete for his Staten Island-based seat, which the GOP has held with relative ease since the early 1980s. Democrats are so bullish on their prospects — and their leading candidate, City Councilman Michael McMahon — that the entire city delegation, along with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), came together on the steps of New York City Hall Friday to embrace McMahon.

[IMGCAP(1)]“This year, we have an historic opportunity to turn the last Republican Congressional district in New York City Democratic,” the Members said in a statement. “We are committed to seeing that Mike McMahon is successful.”

While Democrats got what they consider a candidate with an ideal profile — an elected official from the Staten Island portion of a district that dips into south Brooklyn — Republicans struggled to recruit a top-tier contender for the seat that only became open last month. When their first choices, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan and state Sen. Andrew Lanza passed on the race, GOP leaders turned to Frank Powers, a retired Wall Street investor and political neophyte who has pledged to spend $500,000 of his own money.

The 13th district has more enrolled Democrats than Republicans, but it is a conservative district that is a battleground during presidential election years. For now, the race is a tossup, and may even lean to the Democrats, depending on what kind of candidate Powers proves himself to be.

But the race to replace Fossella may be the only real action on the Congressional front this cycle on Long Island and in New York City. Most of the districts are drawn to favor one party or another, meaning the rare competitive House race in the southern part of the state is as likely to be in a primary as in a general election. New York’s primary is on Sept. 9.

This year, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D), who took just 47 percent of the vote against two elected officials in his 2006 primary win for a 13th term, once again faces a potentially tough race against author and community activist Kevin Powell (D).

Rumors abound that the city’s other three black Members, Reps. Yvette Clarke, Gregory Meeks and Charlie Rangel, could face African-American Democratic primary challengers because they supported home-state Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton rather than Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in this year’s presidential nominating contest. But thus far, no big-name challengers have materialized, and the Empire State filing deadline is just three weeks away.

So with so few opportunities for competitive races, would-be Members of Congress from Long Island and the city are forced to consult actuarial tables and wait. Many of the Members from this part of the state are quite senior, and because most are Democrats, they aren’t likely to be going anywhere for a while now that the Democrats have retaken control of the House. As such, not every district has Congressmen-in-waiting at this point.

The one Member who could move on soon is Rep. Anthony Weiner (D), who is gearing up to make a second run for mayor of New York in 2009. Should Weiner win the keys to City Hall, a special election would be held in his Brooklyn-Queens district in early 2010 to replace him, with party leaders selecting the nominees. Because the district is split between two counties, things could get tricky, as the two party organizations would vie for primacy (Rep. Joe Crowley doubles as chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, so he’d be a major player in the fight).

Whenever Weiner gives up his seat, potential candidates to replace him include two officials who are currently running for higher office: City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D), the son of a former Congressman who is seeking a state Senate seat this year, and Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D), who is running for New York City comptroller in 2009.

Another possibility is Councilman Bill de Blasio (D), who is running for Brooklyn borough president in 2009. De Blasio, the campaign manager for Clinton in her first Senate race, actually lives in Clarke’s majority-black 11th district. But he has been mentioned as a possible candidate for several Brooklyn Congressional seats in the past.

By the time some Congressional seats in the region are open, district lines may be drastically redrawn following the next round of reapportionment in 2012. New York will lose one or two seats, so Member vs. Member contests, or hasty retirements, could be the order of the day.

In the meantime, here are some Members’ potential successors in the city:

Meeks: State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith (D) is close to becoming Majority Leader, but if he ever tires of Albany he’d be a logical candidate.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D): Possibilities include openly gay state Sen. Tom Duane (D), openly lesbian state Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D), and two Nadler protégés: Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (D), who is also eyeing citywide office, and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D).

Towns: Towns, who turns 74 next month, would no doubt like his son, Assemblyman Darryl Towns (D), to succeed him. But Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D) is almost certain to eye the Brooklyn-based seat.

Clarke: The first-term Congresswoman won a tough, crowded primary in 2006 and should hold the seat for a while. But state Sen. Eric Adams (D) could be waiting in the wings, as could one of the men Clarke defeated in the ’06 primary, Chris Owens (D), the son of Clarke’s predecessor, former Rep. Major Owens (D). The younger Owens is running for Brooklyn borough president in 2009.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney: Assemblyman Jonathan Bing (D), Councilman Dan Garodnick (D), Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D), state Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and Councilwoman Jessica Lappin (D) are among those who would consider running for a vacant seat.

Rangel: Councilwoman Inez Dickens (D), Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat (D), Councilman Robert Jackson (D), state Sen. Bill Perkins (D) and Assemblyman Keith Wright (D) are among the possibilities, along with Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, the son of the legendary eponymous Congressman whom Rangel ousted in 1970. Jackson, who is term-limited in 2009, will likely attempt an audacious job switch with state Assemblyman Herman “Denny” Farrell, the former state (and longtime Manhattan) Democratic chairman.

Rep. José Serrano (D): The Congressman’s son, state Sen. José M. Serrano (D), seems like a logical successor.

Rep. Gary Ackerman’s (D) district takes in both parts of Queens in the city, and a portion of Nassau County on Long Island. The true political superstar in that district is new state Sen. Craig Johnson (D), who won a hard-fought special election last year. But Johnson lives in the Long Island portion of the district, and most of the voters are in the city. If someone from the city decides to run, it could be Councilman David Weprin (D).

Farther east on Long Island, Rep. Peter King (R) seems safe for now. But Nassau County Legislator David Mejias (D), who gave King his toughest race in a decade in the previous cycle, could run again in the future.

And at the eastern end of Long Island, possible successors to Rep. Tim Bishop (D) include Assemblyman Mark Alessi (D), who is running for the state Senate this year, Suffolk County Legislator Brian Beedenbender (D), and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Brian Foley (D). Lee Zeldin (R), the Iraq War veteran who is challenging Bishop this year, will probably lose in November. But he’s just 28 years old and could be a political force in the district in the years to come.

No discussion of Long Island political stars is complete without mentioning Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi. Suozzi ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2006 and was steamrolled by then-state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D). But Suozzi’s good name remained intact, and there is much speculation about his political future.

Democrats would love Suozzi to challenge King, but a Congressional seat might seem like small potatoes to him. Although he would probably love to run for governor again, Suozzi is unlikely to challenge Gov. David Paterson (D), the man who succeeded Spitzer following a sex scandal, in a 2010 primary: Suozzi’s father and Paterson’s father are law partners.

Next week: Rising stars north of New York City

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