GOP's Ulrich Has a Shot in Special Vote to Replace Weiner

As disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner, once a major player in New York City politics and a prominent Democratic Party attack dog, enters the X-rated dustbin of history, the question of who will replace him in the state’s ninth congressional district now takes center stage.

Normally, the only question regarding Gotham congressional races is how left-wing the Democratic victor will be.  In anything now regarding Anthony Weiner, the circumstances are hardly normal.

On its surface, NY9 is bedrock Democrat.  A Republican has not represented any portion of it in decades—and Weiner’s predecessor was none other than his mentor, Sen. Chuck Schumer.

But NY9 possesses certain oddities.  For an urban district, its population is decidedly non-diverse: 71% of its voters are white.  Only  a miniscule 4% are African-American.  In recent presidential elections, the Republican vote has not only held steady, it has trended upward, from 30% in 2000 to 44% in both 2004 and 2008.  More significantly, compared with the national GOP vote percentage, it has soared from a deficit of -18% to -7% to just -2%.  And in 2010, Anthony Weiner’s unknown, 70-year-old Republican oppponent, Bob Turner, polled a respectable, and actually startling, 40%.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo may call for a a special election, most logically to occur on primary day, Sept. 13.  Or, state law might kick in, and the “special” election could occur alongside November’s general election.  The earlier date might favor any Democratic aspirant. Names floated from the Democratic side include two former city council members Eric N. Gioia and Melinda Katz; state assemblymen Rory I. Lancman and David I. Weprin; and Queens city council members Mark S. Weprin, Peter Vallone Jr., and Elizabeth Crowley. The Weprins are sons of former New York State Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin. Vallone is the son of a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Crowley’s cousin is Queens County Democratic chairman Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY-7).

Republican names in the mix include 2010 hopeful Bob Turner, anti-9/11 Mosque activist Andy Sullivan and Queens City Councilman Eric Ulrich.  Ulrich, only 26, is a particularly interesting case, described by the New York Observer (in presumably a complimentary sense) as “a younger GOP version” of Anthony Weiner, i.e., that while Weiner was elected to the city council as its then-youngest-ever member at 27, Ulrich was elected at just 24.  In a district that is 13.6% Hispanic, Ulrich, a former seminarian, has the advantage of being married to a native of the Dominican Republic.  The district also features large segments of Italian and Irish voters, as well as religious Jews.  It is pointed out that that the recent polls in the district supporting Weiner remaining in office were distorted in that they occurred during Shavuot, when many religious Jews in the southern portion of the district would not answer their phones.

Earlier this week, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani met with Ulrich and reportedly indicated he would support an Ulrich bid in NY9.  Fifty-thousand of the 56,000 voters in Weiner’s council district reside in NY9.

Complicating the matter for all parties, however, is New York’s redistricting process.  The Empire State will lose two of its 29 congressional seats.  Previously, it was believed the two seats were to be located in the economically hard-pressed upstate area—one Republican seat and one Democratic.  But with Weiner’s departure, all bets are off, and once Albany lawmakers start drawing lines, the results are often bizarre.  NY9 is not only an ethnic anomoly among Brooklyn and Queens seats, straddling Jamaica Bay, it consists of four separate land masses.

No primaries are involved in the New York State special election process.  Republicans and Democrats will choose candidates at the local level.  Minor parties, such as its influential Conservative Party, will designate a candidate from the state level.  Abandoning a safe city council or state assembly risk for a seat that may vanish with a year may be too great a risk for an office holder to endure.

New York Republicans have displayed an uncanny ability to lose slam-dunk elections in safe special congressional elections (NY20, NY23, and now, NY26).  NY9 is an uphill climb under any circumstances, but if the New York State Republican Party and the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee can stand out of the way,  Eric Ulrich just might be the candidate to finally deliver NY9 into Republican hands.