Picking The New U.S. Senator From New York

As we’ve been told by that noted modern philosopher Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, an appointment to fill an empty seat in the U.S. Senate is “fucking golden” and shouldn’t be “given away for fucking nothing.”

The task is looked at a little differently by Governor David Patterson of N.Y. As related in the NY Times economics blog Freakonomics, Patterson notes that since 1960 there have been 48 Senators appointed by Governors to fill vacant seats. 10 of those appointments declined to run again. Only 18 of the 38 Senators seeking to win a term on their own merits won their subsequent election campaign. That’s less than 50%–in a body where incumbents routinely win 90% of the time.

Patterson wants to see a candidate that can win the two elections, in 2010 and 2012, that the new appointment would be forced to undergo to retain that seat. Retaining the seat is important since a large part of a U.S. Senator’s influence is their seniority–the clout they accumulate as they stick around.

But what do New Yorkers want out of a new Senator? Do we need a pork barrel Senator, someone whose only real concern is bringing as much of New York’s tax dollars back to the state in new federal spending? Or are we looking for an enlightened statesperson, someone willing to think long and hard about policy and the choices we as a nation will be forced to make. In an unparalleled time of two foreign wars topped off by an economy in recession with several major industries verging on collapse, don’t we need someone to think about the big picture?

The role of money in campaigns complicates the selection. I don’t know whether it is required by federal election law or NY state law, but appointees to a US Senate seat in NY are required to run at the very next election for that seat, that election is in 2010. The appointee would then be up with the rest of his/her class of the US Senate (the system that rotates one third of the entire Senate into elections every two years) for re-election in 2012. This will require an appointee to raise millions of dollars to pay for the media ads required to run statewide in New York and especially the most expensive media market in the country: NYC. The back-to-back elections will force candidates into non-stop, frenetic fundraising for the next four years.

The other option is to select someone who can finance a great portion of the races themselves. The names that pop into this category would probably include Bloomberg, Golisano and Kennedy, Caroline.

So many different variables: Pork v. policy, wealth v. fundraising prowess, upstate v. downstate, diversity v. same old white guys.

I still think Patterson should appoint himself Senator and endorse Bloomberg to run for Governor as a Dem. Of course, that would make the President Pro Tempore of the NYS Senate the new Governor (since the Lt. Governor seat is vacant). And that person is . . . well, we don’t know yet. The wheels keep turning.

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