Gizzi On Politics December 8

Just Like JFK

Delaware Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner named longtime Biden associate Ed Kaufman to the Senate seat the Vice President-elect has held since 1972. After helping Biden’s sister manage her brother’s first Senate campaign that year, Kaufman went on to be the first chief of staff in the Biden Senate office. He later started his own Delaware-based political consulting firm and among his recent clients have been the incoming Vice President’s son Beau Biden in his winning race for state attorney general in ’04.

Kaufman has signaled that he will serve only until the special election for the remaining four years of Biden’s term is held in 2010. At that time, having completed his tour of duty in Iraq, the Democrat ready to run will be — you guessed it — Beau Biden.  

Kaufman’s appointment to the Senate as a seat-warmer reminds many of the 1961 appointment of Benjamin Smith II, John F. Kennedy’s Harvard roommate, to the Massachusetts Senate seat that JFK gave up to become President. Smith made it clear he would serve only until the special election for the remainder of Kennedy’s term in 1962 — when younger brother Ted Kennedy would reach the constitutional age of 30 and be able to run (which he did, winning handily and holding the seat to this day).  

Post Hillary

Only twice since World War II has there been a vacancy in a New York Senate seat. The first time was in 1949, following the death of Democratic Sen. Robert F. Wagner, famed as the author of the landmark labor legislation that bears his name. Republican Gov. Thomas E. Dewey appointed a close Republican friend, “superlawyer” John Foster Dulles, to the seat. Democrats recaptured the seat in the subsequent special election, when former Gov. (1932-42) Herbert Lehman handily defeated Dulles.

The second vacancy was caused by the assassination of Democratic Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller appointed to his seat Rep. Charles Goodell, who had begun his career in the House as a conservative but became increasingly liberal and opposed the Vietnam War. Republican Goodell placed third in the three-way November 1970 election won by Conservative Party nominee James L. Buckley.

With Hillary Clinton set to move to the State Department, there will soon be a third post-World War II Senate vacancy in the Empire State and the great guessing game has begun over whom Democratic Gov. David Paterson will name to her seat and when the special election for the remaining four years of her term will be held.

Speculation on prospective appointees includes the famous (Bill Clinton or Caroline Kennedy), the predictable (Representatives Kirsten Gillebrand or Nita Lowey, both liberal friends of Hillary), and the politically advantageous (State Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo, whose appointment would remove him as a possible primary opponent to Paterson in 2010).

To no one’s surprise, there are no Republican notables mentioned at this time to run in the special election. But one possibility could be the GOPer most boomed as a gubernatorial candidate: Rep. Peter King (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 77 percent) of Long Island, one of three surviving GOP House members in New York.


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