City Hall Run Could Open Weiner’s Seat

Posted August 31, 2004 at 2:41pm

While Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) continues to publicly contemplate running for mayor of New York in 2005, the jockeying to succeed him has not yet begun among the handful of ambitious politicians who represent Queens and Brooklyn — at least not publicly.

“Life is such in politics that whenever there is speculation about vacancies, there’s also a buzz about who’s going to come after them,” said New York City Councilman Lewis Fiedler (D). “There’s been a remarkable absence of buzz about Anthony Weiner not being a Congressman.”

Is that a reflection of Weiner’s own mayoral prospects in 2005? The more politic politicians aren’t saying.

While Weiner during the past several months has raised his profile beyond his middle-class, outer-borough district, he is generally considered a long shot for the Democratic nomination for mayor.

At least three better-known Democrats are already mobilizing to run: former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and City Comptroller William Thompson.

Even in this heavily Democratic city, the Democratic nominee may have a tough time knocking off incumbent Republican Michael Bloomberg, who has practically unlimited personal resources and whose popularity is steadily rising from what was, for a time, rock bottom. Thanks to Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, the GOP has monopolized the mayor’s office for more than a decade.

Weiner has said he will decide after this Election Day whether to aim for City Hall next year. What may ultimately sway him is whether he will be allowed to transfer a substantial portion of the $1.8 million sitting in his Congressional campaign account for a mayoral run.

The City Council is considering a recommendation from the New York City Campaign Finance Board that would prevent all transfers from one political committee to another. Under the proposal, even a candidate who lost a run for city office one year could not use any surplus from that campaign for a future political race.

Miller — who, as the only other potential white Democratic candidate, probably has the most to lose if Weiner runs — leads the Council, and the measure is considered likely to pass, if only to neutralize the Congressman.

“Weiner’s a pretty heavy underdog,” said Erik Engquist, a political columnist for the Courier-Life Newspapers in Brooklyn. “He’s been building some momentum as far as his press appearances [but] I really don’t see what his winning strategy would be.”

Still, some political observers believe that Weiner, who is only 39, is taking a cue from the last Congressman to advance to New York City Hall: Edward Koch. In 1973, Koch began running for mayor, only to drop out because he could raise no more than $100,000.

Still, Koch used the aborted run in 1973 as a springboard to try again four years later — this time successfully. Weiner may be developing a long-term strategy, looking ahead to 2009, when Bloomberg — if he wins again — will be term-limited out of office.

Yet despite the slim likelihood of an imminent vacancy in the House district Weiner has held since 1999, several Democratic officials are considered possible candidates for the 9th district seat if it becomes open.

Indeed, the dynamic could be similar to 1998, when then-City Councilman Weiner defeated three other elected officials in the open-seat Democratic primary to succeed then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D), who was making a successful bid for Senate.

If Weiner leaves, “everybody and their brother-in-law would run,” said one Democratic consultant in New York.

A couple of things would be significantly different, however.

First, the district’s boundaries have changed since the last round of redistricting. When Weiner won, roughly 70 percent of the territory was in Brooklyn and 30 percent was in Queens. Today, those numbers are reversed.

So while the district’s demographics remain largely the same — almost two-thirds white and heavily Jewish — the majority of people now being mentioned as possible future contenders hail from Queens. In 1998, three of the four Democratic contenders were from Brooklyn.

The other major difference is timing. If Weiner were to be elected mayor in 2005, a special election would have to be held in the spring of 2006 to finish the remainder of his Congressional term. The party nominees would be chosen by the Democratic and Republican central committees of Queens and Brooklyn — forestalling a primary until the fall of 2006, when Weiner’s initial successor would be up for a full term, enjoying the benefits of incumbency.

As is almost always the case in New York City, the Democratic nominee would start as a heavy favorite. In a weighted vote of the central committees, Queens Democratic leaders — who have the most disciplined political machine in the five boroughs — would probably prevail in a special election. What would happen in a subsequent primary, if there is one, is anybody’s guess.

The list of potential candidates is long, led by Queens City Councilwoman Melinda Katz, who finished a mere 489 votes behind Weiner in the 1998 Democratic primary. Katz, a lawyer, is considered close to New York state Comptroller Alan Hevesi (D), who lives in the Congressional district.

Other possible contenders, in alphabetical order, include:

• Queens City Councilman Joseph Addabo Jr., whose late father represented three different districts in Congress for a quarter century until his death in 1986.

• State Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, who inherited his Brooklyn-based seat from his late wife.

• Brooklyn City Councilman Simcha Felder, an Orthodox Jew.

• Fiedler, the Brooklyn councilman. While he could run for the House seat, his immediate ambition is believed to be succeeding Miller as speaker of the Council.

• Queens City Councilman Jim Gennaro.

• State Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin of Queens, a powerhouse in New York politics who contemplated running for mayor in 2005 but decided against it. He is the head of a citywide umbrella organization for trade unions — an asset in any competitive Democratic primary. On the other hand, most of his Assembly district falls in Rep. Gary Ackerman’s Congressional district.

• Queens Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, who is wildly popular in her Rockaways district but is not well known elsewhere.

• City Councilman David Weprin and state Assemblyman Mark Weprin, brothers who represent overlapping districts in Queens. Their father, the late Saul Weprin, was a speaker of the state Assembly.

In a regular Congressional election year, city council members have a tactical advantage, since they do not have to sacrifice their seats to run for the House. But in a special-election scenario, depending on the timing, everyone could jump into the race without having to risk their seats.

Of course, all of this depends on Weiner’s plans, which so far are unknown.

Said one New York Democratic consultant and lobbyist: “It’s an extraordinarily hypothetical situation.”