The shadow of Eric Garner on the race to replace Michael Grimm

As we discussed last week, the resignation of Michael Grimm from his seat in New York’s 11th congressional district following a guilty plea on tax evasion charges has set in motion a strange chain of events, thanks to New York’s rather arcane election laws. The first question to be settled is when the special election will take place. We’ve had more than a few unfortunate experiences here on that score so the media is used to some odd comings and goings. New York Election law says that the Governor must call a special election between 70 and 80 days from the date that he declares the vacancy of the seat. Unfortunately, due to a lack of foresight on the part of our political ancestors, there is nothing which specifies when he must declare the vacancy. So Andrew Cuomo could do it immediately and have a true special election before the end of April, or he could essentially pretend that the seat isn’t vacant until this summer and then declare that the election will take place along with the regular off year festivities in November.

But who will be running? Jim Geraghty summarized that this weekend.

The next big question is who each party will nominate — and under New York State laws, no primaries will be held. The local party selects its nominee, although individuals can “campaign” for the job. Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, former Borough President James Molinaro and District Attorney Daniel Donovan have expressed interest in the job on the GOP side. Democrats are expected to nominate State Assemblyman Michael Cusick, although former Rep. Michael McMahon expressed interest in the job.

Whoever wins the special election would serve through January 2017, and presumably run for reelection to a full term in 2016.

There are a couple of complications to unpack in there. First up is yet another “feature” of Empire State election law. For the special election, there is no option for a primary or caucus or other such opportunity for the voters to have a direct say in who the nominees will be. The county party leaders will get together and decide for everyone else. Some of you may recall how wonderfully this worked out in the now redrawn 23rd District when a closed room meeting produced Dede Scozzafava as the nominee in a 2009 special election. Well… the same rules apply here.

Finally, while the 11th is considered a fairly “safe” GOP district which generally punches above its Cook rating of Republican +2, picking a sure thing will be a bit more tricky this time. People we contacted in the district last year seemed fairly confident that the Go To Guy in the event of Grimm bowing out would have been Donovan, but as Jim notes in the linked article, he’s the same District Attorney who handled the grand jury in the Eric Garner case. The protests are still raging in the streets, cops are being killed, businesses are being invaded and traffic being shut down over that one. The party leaders may be a little hesitant to put Donovan’s face on the ticket under those conditions and go with a less well known politico.

Either way, we should be in for some intriguing off-year politicking. If the Democrats think the unrest will be enough to close that two point generic ballot gap they may start throwing real money into the race which will bring a similar response from the GOP. If it unfolds that way we’ll have a national story unfolding on the streets of Staten Island and a smaller section of Brooklyn.