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Hypercompetitive Politicans Dominate N.Y. Dem Bench

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
New York Democrats doubt Rangel, one of the oldest members of the state’s delegation, will step aside anytime soon.

Empire State politics features some of the most cutthroat competition — and personalities — in the country. In other words: Political ambition is a New York state of mind.

Save for a handful of competitive upstate House seats, Democrats usually only come to Congress if someone leaves office. So unless a party boss arbitrates a primary, Democrats knock each other over to get to Washington. (Next week’s column will tackle a different breed in the Empire State — Republicans.)

“New Yorkers are driven individuals. We live there for a reason,” said Jefrey Pollock, a top N.Y.-based Democratic pollster. “And so the political class tends to run hand in hand with the rest of New York, which is great drive, great ambition, great skills and great theater.”

All of those characteristics play a central role in any guesswork on which Democrats could run for Senate some day in the Empire State. The state’s two senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, are firmly entrenched in their seats. What’s more, the two Democrats are young — at least by Senate standards.

It’s a fool’s errand to ponder if Schumer could retire in the near future. He was re-elected in 2010, and his ambition in the chamber has only increased since then. Instead, the next conceivable opening for Senate hopefuls could occur if Gillibrand sought and won higher office.

Gillibrand came to the Senate via a gubernatorial appointment in 2009, when Hillary Rodham Clinton became secretary of State. New York Democrats bristle at the idea of going through another contentious appointment process again.

The Empire State’s delegation is so large, and New York City hosts some of the wealthiest and most famous people in the world. As a result, no other state boasts such an unpredictable pool of potential Senate candidates.

“Predicting who it would be would be about the silliest exercise it could be, because there are a million people who could run,” a Democratic strategist said.

Still, Democrats named Reps. Steve Israel and Jerrold Nadler, New York City Comptroller-elect Scott Stringer and 26-year-old Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick as potential candidates.

Israel’s two-term stint as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will bolster his fundraising potential. But he could also parlay the post into a position in House leadership.

The Empire State’s intense political competition does not subside at the House level.

The delegation’s two oldest members are Democratic Reps. Louise M. Slaughter, 84, and Charles B. Rangel, 83. Democrats are doubtful that either will step aside anytime soon.

Still, party operatives speculate about the future of Rangel’s 13th District in Harlem. Democrats say there will be a crowded, free-for-all primary if the seat is open.

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