Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner's resignation Thursday creates more questions than answers for the future of New York's 9th district.
And two Democrats — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rep. Joe Crowley — will be pulling all the strings.
New York's unorthodox election laws give the governor unilateral authority to decide if and when a Congressional vacancy is filled. State statute also allows the county party chairman — in this case Crowley, who leads the Queens County Democratic Party — to control the nomination process.
Tom Connolly of the New York Board of Elections confirmed there would be no primary election when a vacancy occurs. And at the very earliest, he said, a special election could take place in about three months, in part because a recent legislative change requires 80 to 90 days for military ballots to be returned.
But even a three-month time frame could be aggressive.
In the case of upstate Democratic Rep. Eric Massa's sudden resignation in March 2010, then-Gov. David Paterson (D) allowed the seat to remain vacant until the general election eight months later.
With the 2011 general election more than 16 months away, Cuomo isn't likely to follow Paterson's lead. A more probable scenario would mirror Cuomo's decision after the abrupt resignation of Rep. Chris Lee (R) earlier this year in New York's 26th district.
In that case, Cuomo waited a month to formally declare the seat vacant and scheduled the election for 10 weeks later.
Regardless of its timing, Democrats are expected to maintain their hold on Weiner's seat, which includes parts of Queens and Brooklyn.
Crowley, who has his own redistricting ambitions very much on his mind, could play kingmaker in the process of selecting a party nominee.
Local Democrats report that Crowley, whose district borders Weiner's, hopes to claim a piece of the departing Congressman's district, which includes white Catholic voters. That means he's unlikely to select an ambitious Weiner successor who would fight to maintain the current district boundaries, according to Democrats familiar with Crowley's thinking.
Three Democrats are dominating the discussion of potential successors.
City Councilman Mark Weprin is chairman of an influential subcommittee that he might be reluctant to give up. Former City Councilman Eric Gioia, considered young and ambitious, has been known to clash with Crowley. And former City Councilwoman Melinda Katz, who narrowly lost to Weiner in the 1998 Democratic primary when the 9th district was last an open seat, is considered closer to Crowley but ambitious, as well.
Democrats have long controlled New York City politics. And while there will be a Republican opponent, local political observers largely expect that person to be token opposition.
One Republican, however, is making some noise. Supporters of Queens Council member Eric Ulrich (R) recently launched the website removeweiner.com in addition to a national advertising campaign.
Republicans have little hope of capturing the seat, even in a low-turnout special election. A GOP campaign aide noted that Democrats have a 150,000-voter registration advantage.
“We look at those as overwhelming numbers to try to counter,” the aide said. “That’s like going up Mount Everest on a Segway.”
The comment, of course, could be an attempt to set low expectations in the unlikely event that circumstances allow Republicans to compete in the special election. That was the case, only in reverse, when Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul scored a stunning victory in the Empire State’s most recent special election, a three-way contest in western New York last month.