Un-elected Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand may not face a serious Democrat primary this year, but if state Republicans have their way she’ll face more than a token challenger in November.
State GOP leaders have been courting contenders to take on the junior senator, but heavy hitters such as former Mayor Rudolph Giuilani and publisher Morton Zuckerman have taken a pass.
Already in the ring is Bruce Blakeman, a former majority leader of the Nassau County Legislature and unsuccessful candidate for state comptroller in 1998, as well as former Westchester congressman Joe DioGuiardi. Also expected to announce next month is David Malpass, president of Encima Global and a former Bear Stearns chief economist.
Another contender may be Dan Senor, a financier with close ties to AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, and author of a recent study of Israel’s high-tech accomplishments, “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.”
His sister, Wendy Senor Singer, works for AIPAC in Jerusalem, where Dan once studied at Hebrew University. Senor, 38, is an adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a defender of Israel in the media, although ironically his only Capitol Hill experience was working for Michigan’s Spencer Abraham in the early ’90s when he was a senator on AIPAC’s rogue’s gallery of Israel foes.
While Senor’s pro-Israel credentials could make him appealing to heavily Democratic Jewish voters, sources say Senor — who has two young children with his wife, CNN reporter Campbell Brown, and a comfortable job as managing director of Rosemont Capital, which he founded with Christopher Heinz, the stepson of Democratic Sen. John Kerry — may be reluctant.
Senor reportedly met with Giuliani to discuss a Senate bid after the former mayor ruled out a run for any political office this year. Neither Senor nor Giuliani returned calls seeking comment at press time.
But Michael Long, chairman of the state’s Conservative Party, said in an interview Tuesday that after speaking to Senor, he believes “he’s seriously considering it.”
It’s been a good couple of decades for Democrat Senate candidates, but the stars may align this year for the state GOP, which hasn’t had a Senate victory since Al D’Amato’s 1992 win, because of local and national factors.
Republicans won downstate last year in the races for Nassau, Westchester and Rockland County executives, and in Ulster and Dutchess counties the GOP took the legislative majority from the Democrats, notes Gerald Benjamin, director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach at SUNY-New Paltz. At the same time Democrats have made a mess of their rule of the state Senate, the leader of their party, Gov. David Paterson, has been mired in scandal at a time when the state faces a $7 billion budget gap, and the Suffolk County executive, Democrat Steve Levy, is reportedly considering running for governor on the GOP line.
“Nationally the Republicans are encouraged and locally the Democrats aren’t governing effectively,” said Benjamin.
But he added that the statewide popularity of Gillibrand, a former House member whose district included parts of Columbia, Dutchess, Essex and other counties shouldn’t be underestimated. “She is the first statewide official in a long time that is not from the metropolitan area, and people beyond the Westchester line appreciate that,” he said.
Republicans are hoping to cash in on traditional midterm resentment against the president’s party and take control of the Senate by picking up as many as 10 seats. Among the incumbents in danger: Nevada’s Harry Reid, the majority leader; Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold.
In a clumsy process, Gillibrand was appointed by Paterson to finish the term of Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was named secretary of state last year. While the Democratic base will be pumped up by a race for governor and other statewide offices, as well as the re-election bid of popular Sen. Charles Schumer (who beat his last challenger with 70 percent of the vote), Gillibrand may not be well enough known to survive a serious, well-funded challenge.
“She’s too inviting a target not to draw some opposition,” says Baruch College political science professor Doug Muzzio. “Whether it’s enough to win is another question."
Long, the Conservative Party chair, said he believed Gillibrand was vulnerable because her positions as a senator on issues like gun control contrasted with many she had taken while representing a more conservative upstate district.
“Who is the real Senator Gillibrand?” Long asked. “Is it the person who voted in Congress when she was upstate or is the person pandering to the far-left extremists because she is trying to avoid a primary?”
Ester Fuchs, a professor of political science at Columbia University, said Gillibrand had likely benefited from the specter of a tough primary against former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford. Ford has since decided not to run.
“Her name recognition is better now and her positives are better now,” said Fuchs. “The Republicans have a pretty fractured field right now but when they finally have a candidate I think she’ll be ready for prime time.”
Fuchs, a former adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said Gillibrand’s evidently strained relationship with Bloomberg — reports say he was put off by her waffling on gun control, a core issue for him — could still be salvaged, despite reports that Bloomberg is courting challengers.
“She’s going to have to work on that,” said Fuchs. “The mayor travels to the beat of his own drummer, but there’s no reason she shouldn’t be able to get him as a supporter.”
Gillibrand did not respond to a request for comment for this column.
Days after the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ruled that the city Department of Education discriminated against the woman slated to be principal of the Khalil Gibran Arabic language charter school by asking for her resignation in 2007 — before the doors had even opened — the current principal abruptly announced that she’s quitting mid-year. Holly Anne Reichert told parents the news Monday and an assistant, Beshir Abdellatif, will be acting principal, the New York Times reported.
That paves the way for a possible return by Debbie Almontaser, whose resignation came after she explained in a New York Post interview the meaning of the word “intifada” without condemning the violence it implies. The school had already been under fire by activists who claimed the school would foster anti-Israel and anti-American sentiment.
Jeff Wiesenfeld, a trustee of the City University who was among those activists, said on Monday that the EEOC ruling, coming at a time of strife between Israel and Washington, “shows the suicidal instinct in the U.S. We have an administration that is trying to strangle the absolute right of the Jewish people to build in their city and yet appeases the Muslim world. So it makes sense that people who engage this city in soft jihad would be defended in this manner by the EEOC.”
Almontaser is suing the city for reinstatement, back pay and damages. A spokesman for the city’s Law Department told the Times the city would continue fighting the suit.
n As voters in one of the nation’s most heavily Jewish municipal districts get ready to vote on Tuesday for their next City Council member, the sole Republican in the race has been knocked off the ballot due to petition challenges. Jonathan Judge says he’ll appeal the ruling. Fighting to succeed 44th District’s Simcha Felder, who was named deputy city comptroller, are Joseph Lazar and David Greenfield.
n Rick Lazio, the Republican former Suffolk congressman who ran against Clinton in 2000 and plans to run for governor this year, met with leaders of the Orthodox Union Tuesday. Topping the agenda, a source said was public support for private day schools, security issues and religious liberty.
n A defendant in the New Jersey U.S. attorney’s widespread corruption probe, which ensnared several Orthodox rabbis and not a few public officials, this week said the arrests were plotted by Chris Christie, then the federal prosecutor, to boost his successful campaign for governor.
“I think it’s obvious, when you connect the dots, there was an attempt to use a government sting as an effort to help Christie’s election,” former assemblyman Louis Manzo said at a press conference, as reported by the Associated Press.
A Christie spokesman, Michael Drewniak, told the AP that Manzo “appears to be just another official in New Jersey charged with corruption who wants to divert attention from his own conduct.” n