You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

New York's Second Senate Seat

Some 40-odd years ago, Chuck Schumer was my student. A few years after that, I became his student. No, not in a formal classroom sense, but in the political dimension. If you watch him, you learn a lot. He's a stand-up liberal, a New York liberal at that. But he is also an effective liberal, which means he sometimes compromises--a sin on the Upper West Side, where politics often means that you shouldn't compromise ... ever.

At 23, Chuck ran for the New York State Assembly and won. Then he went to the House of Representatives and, in 1998, to the U.S. Senate. He'll be running for his third term this November alongside... well, that's the question. New York's second senatorial seat is also up for grabs, since Kirsten E. Gillibrand was appointed by Governor David Paterson for two years to the seat Hillary Clinton vacated when President Obama tapped her for secretary of state.

Ms. Gillibrand isn't much of a senator. But she hasn't even been there for a year. Apparently, Paterson isn't much of a governor either, and Andrew Cuomo, who is very smart and very honest, will either run against him in the primary or have his path cleared for him if the shortlived incumbent decides to call it quits. The president has already tried to push Paterson out of the governor's chair, and it's hard to see how the shove could fail.

And now back to Gillibrand. She is Chuck's candidate. A roguish friend of mine speculated that he's for her because he doesn't want any competition from his junior senator, like he had from Hillary.

In any case, there is another candidate in the wings who probably could beat Gillibrand in the Democratic primary. He is Harold Ford, Jr., who for some years was a congressman from Tennessee, following in the footsteps of his father. He lost a race for the U.S. Senate to his Republican opponent, Bob Corker, whose performance in the health care debate is a terrible augury of tomorrow's Republicanism.

After losing in Tennessee, he came to New York to work in the financial industry. And he is now contemplating his return to politics with a campaign for Senate. “They” are almost calling him a “carpetbagger,” just like “they” did to Bobby Kennedy and Clinton. But New Yorkers are accustomed to having new neighbors from around the country, and that's exactly what Ford is: a new neighbor.

The one rub in this is that apparently Barack Obama doesn't like Harold Ford, or at least doesn't want him running against Gillibrand. Now, that fact is that this may play in Ford's favor. As everybody knows, the president's sway is less than it was, and his electoral sway has not been tested much--although it will be next week in Massachusetts. (I will blog about this case later today.)

But the president's intrusion into two intra-party battles will strain anyone's sway. And don't forget that the two candidates he is maneuvering against are black American politicians. Might not this swath of the electorate resent Obama's haughty exercise of power from above? 

The fact is that Ford is no one to be easily dismissed. He is chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and centrists are the Democrats whom the president is losing.

And, yes, Harold Ford, Jr. is an African American more or less in Harry Reid's casting.