Talk of Schumer Successor Has Already Begun

Posted October 8, 2004 at 4:30pm

He hasn’t even been re-elected.

It isn’t clear whether he’d be able to use the millions of dollars he amassed for his Senate re-election on a different race in the future.

Yet for months there has been incessant talk in New York about the possibility of Sen. Charles Schumer (D) running for governor in 2006.

Premature though it may be — and there are signs Schumer is angling to be the next chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which would rule out a bid for the Governor’s Mansion — there is already talk about who Governor Schumer would appoint to fill Senator Schumer’s seat in 2007.

The possibilities are tantalizing. New York hasn’t had a midterm Senate vacancy since 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy was murdered during his quest for the presidency.

“The choice,” said one national political operative with vast experience in New York, “comes down to what deal [Schumer] can cut.”

Who would Schumer appoint?

You can’t ask Schumer — he won’t even acknowledge that he’s thinking about running for governor two years from now. To try to get some idea of the field of possibilities, Roll Call surveyed two dozen political operatives who work in New York or follow Empire State politics closely, providing them the cover of anonymity. Some wove scenarios that were downright fanciful.

“He could name Rudy Giuliani [R], to get back at [Sen.] Hillary [Rodham] Clinton [D] for hogging the Senate spotlight,” said one public relations man. “Or Al Sharpton, for the same reason. Or Bill Clinton, for the same reason.

“There’s also Rockland County resident Rosie O’Donnell, who’d take the lead on the gay marriage issue,” the PR man continued. “Or [former Housing and Urban Development Secretary] Andrew Cuomo, to ensure he doesn’t run for governor again. And because the other Dems in the Senate would probably kill [Cuomo] after a few months.”

Fantasies aside, most observers dealt with one practical reality: To be elected governor in 2006, Schumer must first dispatch with state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer — either by beating him in a Democratic primary or by convincing him not to run.

One obvious way for Schumer to keep Spitzer out of the governor’s race: Tell the attorney general that he’d be appointed to the Senate if Schumer is elected governor. Whether Spitzer would accept is a question for another day.

Beyond the Spitzer question, a consensus of sorts developed among the experts, with a short list of three leading contenders, all of whom are Members of the House. In alphabetical order, they are:

• Rep. Nita Lowey: The Westchester County Congresswoman prepared to run for Senate in 2000 but then stepped aside when Hillary Rodham Clinton decided to run. She’s amassed a record of service to the party, including a term as chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“I think a lot of people who understand what she did [when she deferred to Clinton] understand the logic of giving it to her,” said a Washington consultant with New York ties.

Two possible drawbacks: Lowey turns 70 in 2007. And does the state want two female Senators from Westchester County?

• Rep. Gregory Meeks: The 51-year-old Congressman, who represents the southeastern corner of Queens, is showing signs of restlessness in the House, according to observers in both New York and Washington. And there have been rumors for months that if Schumer decided to run for governor he would appeal for black support by promising to appoint a black politician to his seat if he made it to Albany.

Meeks has close ties to his predecessor, former Rep. Floyd Flake (D), who commands extraordinary power as the minister of a church with more than 12,000 members.

Other black leaders are also mentioned, including former state Comptroller Carl McCall (D) and state Senate Minority Leader David Paterson (D).

But McCall — the highest-ranking black official in state history — has lost much of his political juice in recent years. First, there was his lackluster run for governor in 2002, in which he took 34 percent of the vote against Gov. George Pataki (R). And he also resigned from the board of the New York Stock Exchange amid controversy last year after the board gave a $140 million severance package to its outgoing chairman, Richard Grasso.

Paterson, 48, is the son of Basil Paterson, a former New York secretary of state and one-time vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The younger Paterson is mentioned as a possible successor some day to veteran Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

If Schumer wants to appoint a Latino to the Senate, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer (D), a likely candidate for mayor in 2005, could fit the bill.

• Rep. Anthony Weiner: Weiner has already followed in Schumer’s footsteps.

A former chief of staff to Schumer when Schumer was in the House, Weiner spent seven years in the City Council and was elected to succeed Schumer in the House in 1998. He is talking openly about running for mayor of New York next year.

While Weiner may be the sentimental choice for Schumer, several people interviewed suggested that appointing this former underling would be tantamount to nepotism for Schumer. And one political consultant boldly predicted, “If it’s Weiner, he would be primaried” in 2008, when the appointee would run to fill the remainder of Schumer’s Senate term.

Other white pols mentioned as possibilities are State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester County; Rep. Joseph Crowley; Cuomo, the former HUD secretary; Assemblyman Michael Giannaris of Queens; and New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who is first in line to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) if he were unable to serve.

Brodsky and Giannaris are both preparing to run for attorney general in 2006 if Spitzer seeks a different office.

Giannaris and Gotbaum are both very strong fundraisers — a trait that Schumer could find very attractive, either for himself or for their own re-election prospects. Gotbaum is married to a powerful retired labor leader in New York.

Cuomo, who is also pondering a run for AG, is in need of political rehabilitation following his disastrous campaign for governor in 2002, and his very messy and very public divorce from Kerry Kennedy Cuomo — RFK’s daughter.