Is Boehlert Preparing to Say Goodbye?

At 3 p.m. this Friday in Utica, N.Y., moderate Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert will make a “major announcement,” according to news reports in my native Oneida County tonight. The topic came up as Boehlert traveled with President Bush aboard Air Force One yesterday, according to the Associated Press. Here’s an excerpt:

Returning to Washington aboard Air Force One after the president’s visit to Canandaigua, Boehlert said he and Bush also chatted about baseball, basketball and global warming, a key concern of the congressman and one that has occasionally put him at odds with the administration.

After disembarking Air Force One, Boehlert said he will soon announce his plans, but didn’t want to say yet what they were.

“I shared them with him, and I’ll share them with the public in just a couple of days,” said Boehlert, R-New Hartford.

Boehlert has long been rumored to be on the verge of retirement. And like Rep. Bill Thomas (R.-Calif.) before him, such notice of a “major announcement” would indicate that he’s about to say goodbye.

A Boehlert retirement would be a loss for his Upstate New York district—despite his liberal leanings, he still manages to carry significant weight within the House Republican caucus. At the same time, conservatives will rejoice if Boehlert (lifetime American Conservative Rating: 40%) were to go.

I’m told by the National Republican Congressional Committee that if Boehlert retires, they’re confident the seat will remain in GOP hands. (What else would they say?)

Republicans have a strong bench to choose from, including two prospects mentioned earlier this week by Congressional Quarterly (subscription required): state Senators James Seward and Ray Meier.

So what’s the latest buzz on the district?

  1. Catherine Bertini, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Management, is a liberal Republican (maybe to the left of Boehlert) who is rumored to be interested in the race if Boehlert gets out. Bertini hails from Cortland.
  2. One former Hill staffer told me recently that if Boehlert gets out, the GOP is headed for a nasty primary that would pit former Rome Mayor and current Oneida County Executive Joe Griffo against state Sen. Ray Meier (no mention of Seward). If Bertini were to get in the race, that would make it even harder for a conservative to win the seat. The liberal Republican could benefit.
  3. On the Democratic side, the four-way race might expand to include another power player: state Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito. She would enter the race only if Boehlert got out. My source, the former Hill staffer, said Destito, with her many connections in Utica and Rome, would be the toughest potential opponent to Griffo/Meier/Bertini/Seward.

Obviously, this all becomes moot if Boehlert decides to stay. But my own view is that he won’t given his committee situation (he’s term-limited as chairman of Science) and the shenanigans he pulled last year on the tax-cut bill and ANWR (displeasing many in his party). That being said, Boehlert did support Majority Leader John Boehner, which bodes well for him if he decides to stay.