Green Room

Paterson Calls Special Election in NY-29. Sort of.

posted at 7:17 am on May 13, 2010 by

There’s been a lot of howling coming from New York’s 29th district ever since Eric Massa resigned, and not all of it was from male congressional staffers being tickled until they passed out. A large swath of residents seemed upset that they were apparently going to remain without representation in Congress during a time when so many controversial issues were being debated. This led the some voters to file a lawsuit, demanding that a special election be held.

Governor David Paterson, at the time of Massa’s resignation, was quoted as saying he would hold a special election as quickly as possible. But he soon backed off that statement, saying as recently as last week, that such a procedure would be too costly during these fiscally troubled times in the state and also cited problems with new electronic voting machines. Now, however, the Governor has apparently seen the light and announced there will be a special election after all… on Nov. 2nd.

New York Gov. David Paterson has called for a special election Nov. 2 to fill the seat held by former U.S. Rep. Eric Massa, who resigned amid an investigation into whether he sexually harassed male staffers.

Massa resigned in March. Paterson said then he would call a special election to replace the Democrat as quickly as possible. But Wednesday he said concerns about new electronic voting machines and the cost of a special election had persuaded him to wait.

GOP strategists say Paterson delayed to boost Democratic chances of keeping the 29th Congressional District seat, in western New York. The seat is believed to be ripe for a Republican takeover.

If that date sounds familiar to you it’s because the special election will run concurrently with the regular election. So what’s the point?

On the surface, one might think it a reasonable solution. It certainly saves the cost of a separate election and, given the arcane nature of Empire State election laws, the winner will be seated as soon as the election is certified rather than waiting until January. But in reality, that will only put a new Congressman in office for roughly five or six weeks before the rest of the incoming class. Had Paterson moved quickly upon Massa’s resignation in March, NY-29 could likely have had someone in office by June. So what gives? Why not just leave the seat vacant until January?

Liz Benjamin of YNN Network’s Capital Tonight digs into the issue and nails it.

However, it also means that the Democratic Party leaders will dictate the selection of a candidate, protecting their contender, political newcomer Matt Zeller, from a primary challenge. After some jockeying, the Republicans settled on the candidate who had already announced his intention to challenge Massa, former Corning Mayor Tom Reed.

The Democrats are taking a page from the NY Republicans’ playbook which we observed during the whole Dede Scozzafava debacle. By declaring a special election, Paterson saves the Democrats from a bruising, expensive and potentially damaging primary for Matt Zeller, who is untested for such a high profile race. Now the Democratic county chairs will be able to simply select Zeller. (And we all know how well that worked out for the GOP when they picked Dede.)

And the Democrats have good reason to be afraid. This western upstate district leans to the conservative side to begin with, presenting a prime opportunity for the GOP. The Republicans had already pretty well settled on a candidate and they’ve got a good one. I’ve met with Tom Reed and his staff a couple of times already, as their district shares a border with ours. The former mayor of Corning is a well liked, competent, capable guy with a lot of support and probably would have sent Massa packing this November even without the Ticklegate scandal.

Governor Paterson is doing no favors for the 29th district with this blatantly political move. Were he truly concerned about the voters having representation the election would already be underway, if not completed. If he really felt that the cost of a special and the questions about the new voting machines were sufficient reasons to wait he could have left the seat open until January. Putting someone in the seat five weeks early is relatively meaningless, particularly since Congress will be in recess for the Christmas / New Year holiday for a fair portion of it. This is New York politics as usual, nothing more. And it’s not a pretty picture.

Disclosure Statement: The author is Director of Communications for George Phillips, Republican candidate for Congress in NY-22, which is adjacent to NY-29 on the Eastern side.

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We need the “Miss Me Yet?” billboards but with Spitzer’s face instead of Dubya’s. Paterson has been an unmitigated disaster.

Abby Adams on May 13, 2010 at 10:13 AM