The race to replace Weiner

Out here in the Empire State, there are a few things which you can always count on. The sun will rise in the east, your taxes are going to go up again, and if we are forced to have a special election for Congress, we’ll find a way to turn it into an absolute debacle. It is with the third of those givens in mind that we now approach the next challenge in one of the saddest political sagas of our time: Anthony Weiner is gone and we’re going to have to replace him. So how will that work?

Sam Stein provides a brief refresher course on New York’s arcane election laws this week. A few of the problems which were highlighted in our last couple of … interesting special elections were addressed in a recent bill, but Governor Cuomo still has enough options on the table to muddle the process. If’ he’s going to call a special election for the NY-9 seat he’ll have to get moving and do it fairly quickly. The date must then be set no less than 70 but no more than 80 days out from the date of the announcement.

While it would allow for an eclectic and doubtless entertaining mix of candidates jumping in, such a schedule would also land the election either in the muggy, vacation heavy dog days of August or the back to school rush of early to mid September. In short, turnout would likely be even lower than the normally thin special elections we’ve seen in the past. The Democrats really don’t want to see that happen because it introduces a wild card element in what should otherwise be a fairly safe seat for them. (Weiner managed a better than 20 point spread even during the GOP tidal wave of 2010.)

Cuomo’s other choice is to do nothing, in which case the seat stays vacant until the next general election in November, with hopefully a more healthy and normal turnout rate. But, as Stein points out, this introduces a new wrinkle into the process.

If that happens, however, prospective candidates would have to make a mad dash to get on the ballot. “People should be out passing petitions in his district today or tomorrow,” said Conklin, “because the petition process closes on July 14.” Candidates from one of the six parties in the state –Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Working Families, Independence and Green — would then have to collect 1,250 signatures to qualify. Those attempting to run as an independent or third party candidate, would need 3,000. A primary would be held in September for that election on the first Tuesday in November.

Were I a betting man I would put a small wager on Cuomo letting it lie until November, and I’ve already been tipped off by some operatives out here that he’s leaning in that direction. So who will answer the call and fill the seat? For the real inside baseball addicts among you, Liz Benjamin of Albany’s Capital Tonight has a full, detailed rundown of the contenders being discussed. Liz interviewed me several times during the 2010 campaign and she’s very sharp with a good eye for NY politics. She further speculates that the Democrats will push Cuomo to call a special to avoid a primary and allow Queens Democratic Chairman/Rep. Joe Crowley to anoint a placeholder candidate. This would let him pick somebody who wouldn’t run next year anyway, opening the door to eliminating NY-9 in the upcoming redistricting. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it.