The Next Senator from New York Will Be. . .
This morning, Barack Obama officially announced Senator Hillary Clinton will be nominated to serve as Secretary of State in the new administration. Assuming Senator Clinton is approved by the Senate for the cabinet position, Governor Paterson will appoint someone to fill her seat.
And so the speculation has begun.
Some of the potential appointees include Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Caroline Kennedy, Congressman Brian Higgins and, believe it or not, Mayor Byron Brown.
There hasn't been a US Senator from Western New York for decades, though apparently Governor Paterson is sympathetic to this absence. When asked about appointing an 'Upstate' pol, Paterson responded "It's very important because ... there is history and familiarity that people have who come from different parts of the state or have unique backgrounds that we'd like to see in government."
While Governor Paterson has made pronouncements that he'd like to be sensitive to racial diversity as well as geographic diversity, doing so would fly in the face of the most obvious candidate - Attorney General Cuomo. Indeed, Paterson needs to weigh carefully his desire for diversity with the fact that whoever he appoints will face a statewide election in 2010 to hold the Senate seat for the final 2 years of the term and will be forced to win another statewide election in 2012 to receive another 6 year term. While there is some talk that Paterson will appoint a 'placeholder' candidate who will simply serve out the next two years and not run again in 2010, that approach would likely give Republicans the best chance at capturing the seat in 2010 or 2012.
Of course, upstate candidates haven't won election to the Senate for three fundamental reasons - population, fundraising and name recognition. Very few downstaters have heard of Brian Higgins or Byron Brown, and it will likely take $70M to successfully run statewide campaigns in 2010 and 2012. To put that in perspective, Congressman Higgins raised $1.2M for his 2006 campaign. Given that, it seems hard to imagine Higgins or Brown could raise anywhere near that much money for a Senate run, and while the 2 year stint in the Senate would help with name recognition, other notable Democrats and every notable Republican would immediately begin preparing for the 2010/2012 elections.
It's appealing to think that a local politician could get this appointment, but given the political realities, it seems very unlikely. Congressman Higgins has an impressive track record and solid approval ratings, but there are too many structural disadvantages for him to overcome. And since Mayor Brown seems to be constantly engaged in small-time internecine political wars (including pushing to have Harvey Garrett removed from a local non-profit board), it's hard to imagine him being sworn in on the floor of the US Senate.
But let the speculation begin. . .