Rep. Anthony Weiner’s resignation on Thursday paves the way for yet another special election for Congress in New York. But don’t expect another barn-burner.
Over the last three years, four other New York seats have hosted special elections, and in every case but one, the race has turned into a major fight between the two national parties For several reasons, we shouldn’t expect the race for the 9th district seat to be all that heated.
First, the seat isn’t likely to be competitive. True, Republicans have made strides in the Queens- and Brooklyn-based district in recent years, and its one of the most Republican-trending districts in the country.
But it remains an urban New York district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 150,000 — not a typo — registered voters. That’s 220,000 Democrats and 70,000 Republicans. So even as President Obama was held to a relatively low 56 percent of the vote in 2008, there is a sizeable Democratic institutional advantage in place, which is important for what will be a low-turnout special election. (It should also be noted that Obama’s performance is probably the low-water mark; other statewide Democrats have done much better in the 9th.)
Republicans are already lowering expectations by pointing to the registration gap. That’s normal — Democrats did the same thing in the New York 26th district special election that they eventually won — but it’s also justified.
Second, the stakes just aren’t that high, even at the local level.
The district is as ripe as any in the nation for elimination in advance of the 2012 election. New York is losing two seats in redistricting, and one of those is likely to be a Democratic-leaning seat in the New York City area. All the other members who could have their districts re-drawn are long tenured, making the special election winner the easiest target.
That means, no matter who wins, that victory is likely to be short-lived. Even if Republicans believe they can win an urban New York special election sometime later this year, that winner probably wouldn’t have a winnable district to run in 2012. That’s a bad investment for national parties looking to conserve cash.
That reality may prevent interested Democrats from pursuing the seat, especially if they would be forfeiting much safer offices in the meantime.
Democrats who have been mentioned include New York City Councilman Mark Weprin, Forest Hills Councilwoman Melinda Katz, state Assemblyman Rory Lancman and former New York City Councilman Eric Gioia. On the GOP side, possible candidates include City Councilman Eric Ulrich and Bob Turner, who raised and spent less than $400,000 on the 2010 race and took 40 percent of the vote against Weiner.
The authority to declare the seat vacant rests with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Once Cuomo announces the special, it must be held between 70 and 80 days later.