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Hypercompetitive Politicans Dominate N.Y. Dem Bench

Empire State politics features some of the most cutthroat competition — and personalities — in the country. In other words: Political ambition is a New York state of mind.

Save for a handful of competitive upstate House seats, Democrats usually only come to Congress if someone leaves office. So unless a party boss arbitrates a primary, Democrats knock each other over to get to Washington. (Next week’s column will tackle a different breed in the Empire State — Republicans.)

“New Yorkers are driven individuals. We live there for a reason,” said Jefrey Pollock, a top N.Y.-based Democratic pollster. “And so the political class tends to run hand in hand with the rest of New York, which is great drive, great ambition, great skills and great theater.”

All of those characteristics play a central role in any guesswork on which Democrats could run for Senate some day in the Empire State. The state’s two senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, are firmly entrenched in their seats. What’s more, the two Democrats are young — at least by Senate standards.

It’s a fool’s errand to ponder if Schumer could retire in the near future. He was re-elected in 2010, and his ambition in the chamber has only increased since then. Instead, the next conceivable opening for Senate hopefuls could occur if Gillibrand sought and won higher office.

Gillibrand came to the Senate via a gubernatorial appointment in 2009, when Hillary Rodham Clinton became secretary of State. New York Democrats bristle at the idea of going through another contentious appointment process again.

The Empire State’s delegation is so large, and New York City hosts some of the wealthiest and most famous people in the world. As a result, no other state boasts such an unpredictable pool of potential Senate candidates.

“Predicting who it would be would be about the silliest exercise it could be, because there are a million people who could run,” a Democratic strategist said.

Still, Democrats named Reps. Steve Israel and Jerrold Nadler, New York City Comptroller-elect Scott Stringer and 26-year-old Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick as potential candidates.

Israel’s two-term stint as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will bolster his fundraising potential. But he could also parlay the post into a position in House leadership.

The Empire State’s intense political competition does not subside at the House level.

The delegation’s two oldest members are Democratic Reps. Louise M. Slaughter, 84, and Charles B. Rangel, 83. Democrats are doubtful that either will step aside anytime soon.

Still, party operatives speculate about the future of Rangel’s 13th District in Harlem. Democrats say there will be a crowded, free-for-all primary if the seat is open.

Sources said that former Gov. David Paterson will almost certainly consider the seat, although he said in 2010 that he would not seek elected office ever again.

One Democratic operative floated another possible Rangel successor: former Democratic National Committee Executive Director Patrick Gaspard, who came up through the ranks of New York politics. Raised in Brooklyn, Gaspard is currently the ambassador to South Africa.

Democrats also note that state Sen. Adriano Espaillat narrowly lost to Rangel in a 2012 primary and still holds political credibility in the region. They also mention state Assemblyman Keith Wright as a potential candidate.

Meanwhile, Democrats are perplexed by the future of Slaughter’s 25th District.

Most recently, Rochester Mayor-elect Lovely Warren shocked the city’s Democratic establishment with her victory. Multiple Democrats say she “came out of nowhere.” As a young African-American woman, they see her potential but plead ignorance on her political skills.

Next year, Democrats will target a more attainable seat: Republican Rep. Tom Reed’s 23rd District.

Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson is the likely Democratic nominee for 2014. If she fails, party operatives pointed to Myrick and Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa as potential contenders. Shinagawa lost his bid to defeat Reed last cycle by 4 points.

At least one seat remains on the Democratic wish list: GOP Rep. Peter T. King’s 2nd District in Long Island. President Barack Obama won the district with 52 percent, but King has consistently performed better there than GOP presidential contenders.

Democrats have not indicated they plan to target King in 2014. But if he retires, local operatives named Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice as a potential candidate.

Finally, there are a handful of big political personalities in New York who Democrats say could run anywhere — if there’s ever an opening.

Specifically, Democrats say New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn could still be a big player in state politics, even after her 2013 mayoral defeat.

Farm Team is a state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress. The column runs on Thursdays. The next Farm Team will focus on Republicans in New York.

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