Redistricting key to future of Weiner's House seat

AP News
Posted: Jun 17, 2011 3:18 PM
Redistricting key to future of Weiner's House seat

With U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner's humiliating exit from office, New York is likely to hold a special election sometime in the next few months to pick his successor, but voters probably shouldn't expect a bruising public contest over the right to go to Washington. The job might not even exist in 19 months.

Because of population shifts, New York state is slated to lose two House seats in 2013, and lawmakers in Albany will spend the next few years redrawing the boundaries of congressional districts in a highly politicized process that could, in theory, wipe Weiner's old territory in Queens and Brooklyn from the map.

Traditionally, lawmakers looking to butcher a district have turned to ones where there is no incumbent, or one with little seniority. That would seem to put the 9th Congressional District at risk for elimination, or at least a bigger overhaul of its borders than other districts in the state.

"The question then becomes, is it worth going for a seat that may not exist?" said Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College's School of Public Affairs.

That option still could present a good political stepping stone for a Democrat looking to move up the ranks in a highly Democratic city, said Matthew Hiltzik, a public relations specialist and political consultant.

"It's an opportunity to build name recognition, and be in a position to possibly stay in Congress if something unusual happens," he said.

But entering the race could be a tougher call for a GOP candidate, who, if victorious, would be almost certain to see his or her seat gerrymandered out of existence.

"You're not going to recruit a big star to win a seat that's not going to exist," Muzzio said.

The puzzle-piece nature of redistricting could mean substantial alterations in the borders of a number of congressional districts statewide. Conventional wisdom holds that lawmakers are likely to eliminate one seat in western New York, where the population has declined, and then one downstate seat likely to be held by a Democrat.

Registered Democrats in the district outnumber Republicans in the current 9th Congressional District by three to one, and while neither Barack Obama nor John Kerry had runaway victories there in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections (they both took 56 percent of the vote), other contests with lower turnout have a history of Democratic romps.

All this suggests that the Democratic nominee holds a big advantage, and, unlike in a regular election, voters will not get to choose who gets that spot on the ballot.

Because special elections are held on short notice, there are no party primaries. The candidates are picked instead by party leaders. In Weiner's district, that means the choice will effectively be made by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, the party chairman in Queens County, and state Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the party chairman in Kings County.

Prospective candidates are expected to begin privately angling to get the nomination in the coming days, if they haven't started already. Some Democratic names being bandied about include City Councilman Mark Weprin, state Assembly members Melinda Katz and Rory Lancman, former City Councilman Eric Gioia, and, on the Republican side, City Councilman Eric Ulrich and Bob Turner, a retired Queens businessman who ran against Weiner in 2010.

The timetable for an election is uncertain.

Under state law, Gov. Andrew Cuomo could call for a special election at any time in the coming weeks or months. The rules would then require that the contest be held in no fewer than 70 days, but no more than 80 days _ a window that would coincide nicely with an already-scheduled party primary in September.

A special election would be the latest in a string for the state. Last month in the Buffalo area, a Democrat beat a Republican in a race to succeed U.S. Rep. Chris Lee, who resigned after sending shirtless pictures of himself to a woman he met through Craigslist.

Democrat Bill Owens won a special election in November 2009 for the North Country seat vacated by Army Secretary John McHugh, a Republican.

Earlier that year, Democrat Scott Murphy won a race to succeed Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand after she was appointed to the U.S. Senate.