Kirsten Gillibrand’s ascension to the U.S. Senate has prompted a flurry of interest for her seat in Congress, including from a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, a longtime network anchor, a one-time gubernatorial candidate and the outspoken state Assembly minority leader.
More than two dozen Democrats have flooded the field of candidates vying for the 20th Congressional District, a sprawling swath of territory extending from Rhinebeck to near the Canadian border. Among some of the better-known names considering a run are Tracy Egan, the former news anchor for WTEN Albany, and Mike Richter, the former New York Rangers goalie who helped lead the team to their first championship in more than 40 years.
“It’s a wonderful thing, and we’re really hoping that those who aren’t going to be the candidate this time around will look ahead to some of the other openings,” said Sue Montgomery Corey, chairwoman of the Essex County Democrats, who is coordinating the selection process with the district’s other party chairmen.
On the other side of the aisle, Republican leaders say they’ve also gotten a number of candidates seeking to reclaim the congressional district, but have seen three front-runners emerge since Gillibrand was appointed last week to serve out the term of former Sen. Hillary Clinton. Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco was endorsed by the Saratoga County Republican Committee Sunday, but faces formidable party opposition for the seat in state Sen. Betty Little and John Faso, who made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2007.
“We’ve got a wealth of candidates,” said Michael Grasso, chairman of the Warren County Republican Committee. “The three of them have a wealth of experience.”
Gov. David Paterson has yet to announce a special election for the vacancy. Though there is no statutory time period for the governor make such a proclamation, state Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin said it is in the best interest of the district to fill the seat as soon as possible.
“Once he does do it, the election has to take place no less than 30 days after and no more than 40 days from when the proclamation is made,” he said.
The Democrats and Republicans each have different ways of selecting a candidate. The GOP will conduct weighted tally among the 10 party chairs, with emphasis given to those counties that registered the greatest number of Republican votes during the 20th District’s election last November.
The Democrats will select a candidate by a majority of the 10 party chairs but have agreed not to endorse candidates in advance of their selection. The Working Family, Conservative and Independence parties will allow their state executive committees to make endorsements.
In addition, Conklin said independent candidates can also run for the seat. However, these candidates will need to collect 3,500 signatures from the district within 12 days of the governor’s proclamation.
Larry Bulman, the chairman of the Saratoga County Democratic Committee, said the party leaders are hoping to winnow down their teeming list of candidates within the next two weeks. He said the hope is to interview about 15 candidates before selecting the one whom they consider best suited to win a district weighted toward the Republicans.
“This being a red district, we’re not going to take anything for granted,” he said. “We’re going to have to work twice as hard as we have in the past.”
Bulman said Richter, who has a home in Essex County, helped both of Gillibrand’s campaigns and has expressed interest in running for office. The former National Hockey League star recently completed a degree at Yale University and was considering a run for Connecticut’s 4th Congressional district in 2007.
“He’s someone who’s actually been here knocking on doors,” he said of Richter, who is also a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
But Richter is not alone. Other Democrats vying for the position include Egan, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim, Warren County businessman Scott Murphy and even Bulman himself.
Egan, whose father Bill Egan made an unsuccessful run for the district during the 1960s, said her position as a news anchor gives her good name recognition, while her work as a journalist gives her practical experience with public policy. The Ballston resident said several party leaders urged her to run.
“I’m interested,” she said. “It’s something that has been in the back of my mind for some time.”
The Republicans will confer today to develop consensus for their lead candidate among a pool that also includes Richard Wager, who challenged for the party nomination for the district in 2008, and Alexander “Sandy” Treadwell, who lost to Gillibrand during the general election. State Republican Committee Executive Director Matthew Walter said the diverse pool of candidates will give the party a strong pick in the end.
“It’s a really strong field,” he said. Tedisco, who has a home in Saratoga Springs, has already won an endorsement from the Saratoga County GOP, which will command about a third of the weighted vote. The assembly’s minority leader said his outspoken attitude in politics has given him the recognition he needs to reclaim the district for his party.
“I’ve taken some stands that people will recognize,” he said, referring to his political bouts with former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his recent call for a special election for Clinton’s Senate seat.
Tedisco’s push to secure the selection will face a challenge from Faso, a candidate endorsed by Republicans in Greene and Columbia counties. He secured 64 percent of the vote in the 20th Congressional District during his 2002 run for state comptroller. He’ll also have to ward off Little, a longtime member of the Legislature who was endorsed by the Warren County Republicans this week.
“This is an opportunity for us to get the district back,” Grasso said.