Out here in New York, Democratic Governor David Paterson finds himself in the unusual role of holding an embarrassment of riches. Having been placed in the unenviable position of needing to fill Senator Hillary Clinton’s sensible pantsuits in the nation’s upper chamber, he is rewriting the old Shakespearean Twelfth Night adage to read, “Some people are born to greatness while others have greatness dropped upon their doorstep like a bag of flaming dog poo.”
The original script of the Hudson Valley power brokers never included Paterson spending his nights in the Empire State’s governor’s mansion, to say nothing of filling a seat in the newly burgeoning Democratic Senate majority.
Ignoring his early displays of talent as a peace broker between Sheldon Silver and Joe Bruno, liberals in Albany viewed the legally blind, African-American politico as the perfect minority vermouth to Elliot Spitzer’s gin, but they had no plans for him to play first chair.
Had the Sheriff of Wall Street not been discovered in flagrante delicto with a woman of negotiable affections, Paterson might never have faced this quandary.
As things stand, however, local sources indicate that the governor’s arm is being twisted into shapes previously imagined only by bakers of opiate laced pretzels. The Old Money of the Hudson Valley has not forgotten the way the DNC foisted an Arkansas carpetbagger off on them in 2000 and would like to see some home grown talent move up, so Paterson is no doubt grateful that the Cigar Aficionado in Chief has demurred from possible consideration. Likewise, Bobby Kennedy’s son has passed on the seat, as did Michael Bloomberg. Still, Paterson faces a minefield in the remaining contenders.
The chattering class has weighed in already, claiming the inevitability of Thomas Suozzi. The Long Island county executive narrowly lost to Spitzer in their primary battle and has a solid background. Local voices upstate have also been whispering about Michael Arcuri, the 24th district congressman and former Oneida County prosecutor who unseated Republican Sherry Boehlert during the 2006 GOP bloodbath. While both have much to recommend them, they share the same fatal flaw — they’re white men. Paterson is under intense pressure, from both without and within, to keep the face of diversity on the Democrats’ Senate membership now that Obama has taken his leave.
The Syracuse Herald has been trumpeting Nita Lowey, who was poised to make a run for this position in 2000 until Hillary arrived on her red carpet. Unfortunately, Nita is now in her seventies and is an unlikely prospect, given that the seat will be back up for grabs in 2010. Paterson will recognize that the DNC would prefer a pick who will be a vital, viable candidate for reelection, since Rudy (America’s mayor) may want a shot at it himself 24 months from now.
The governor has already bought himself some time in this process, stating that he will not be discussing an appointment until the seat is officially vacant. Hillary won’t be stepping down until her confirmation hearings for secretary of state are finished next year. (I’m currently drowning my sorrows over this cautionary decision with a bottle of Mr. Daniels’ finest.) Still, the deadline looms and I’m fairly sure that Paterson already has his mind made up as much as possible.
Were I forced to predict who the eventual winner will be, I would put my money on Nydia Velazquez. At 55 years of age she has plenty of juice left for a solid career and the back story seems to fill the bill nicely. Ms. Velazquez is the daughter of a worker in Puerto Rico’s sugar cane fields who went on to become the first in her family to gain a college degree. Moving to New York City, she rose quickly to prominence and has held the 12th district Congressional seat since 1992.
She is a powerful orator who has faced the full vetting process with few bruises and her ambitions for continued advancement have been no secret. With a seat in the Senate and that sort of compelling biography, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see her name in contention for a cabinet post in future administrations, so Paterson could do far worse than her.
Those of us in the Empire State who watched with dismay as our Senate seat was outsourced to the former first lady have been waiting quite some time to get that office back in the hands of a New Yorker. This may be the single, greatest motivating factor in my recent endorsement of Senator Clinton for her upcoming position in the State Department. (Or, really, any department in Washington or points beyond.) We have a number of qualified, moderate Republicans who would do well in the role, but the governor is neither foolish nor “post-partisan” enough to cross party lines for this pick, and RINOs aren’t very popular in the national GOP at the moment anyway.
Best of luck at State, Senator Clinton, and don’t let the door hit you … well, you get the general idea.