This November will mark a rare chance for New Yorkers to vote on both their U.S. senators in the same year, which could be good for the embattled junior Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
A large turnout in support of popular Sen. Charles Schumer, who was first elected in 1998, together with a spirited campaign for governor could help the novice Gilliband keep the seat she inherited from Hillary Clinton last year.
But that’s only if she avoids or wards off a primary challenge from likely candidate Harold Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman who has been encouraged by some local backers, including Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, and discouraged by top Democrats, including Schumer.
Critics say Ford’s record on abortion and gay marriage, which he until recently opposed, are out of character with the state party.
As yet, no challenger has emerged to take on Schumer, who was elected to a second six-year term in 2004 with 71 percent of the vote against Howard Mills.
“Taking on Schumer would not be smart to do, although, in the present environment, you may get within 20 points because of the general anti-incumbent sense,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
As for Gillibrand, Sheinkopf said “she has had a limited presence in New York City and taken positions only when she has to. But she has the support of both Schumer and [former Sen. Al] D’Amato, which tells you something.”
D’Amato, the last Republican to serve New York in the Senate, was defeated by Schumer in 1998. He stood beside Gillibrand, his former intern, when she was sworn in.
Lincoln Mitchell, a former political consultant currently teaching international politics at Columbia, said a Ford campaign would be an uphill battle.
“He would have a hard time winning in New York and a hard time convincing voters he’s in the right place,” said Mitchell. “A more established politician like [Rep.] Carolyn Maloney or [Manhattan borough president] Scott Stringer could have won. [Gillibrand] makes no impression and was appointed by a guy who wasn’t elected.”
He was referring to Gov. David Paterson who named Gillibrand as his second choice after Caroline Kennedy dropped out of consideration.
A top Jewish leader, who asked not to be identified because his organization is not political, said Gillibrand “hasn’t taken any initiatives on Israel but has been on the right side of everything. I wouldn’t say she is vulnerable on any Jewish issues.”
In other local political news, a former state senator from Brooklyn, Seymour Lachman, is considering a run for the City Council seat soon to be vacated by Simcha Felder, who has been named deputy comptroller.
“I’ll decide within the next week to 10 days,” says Lachman. He said the requirement that he move a few blocks into the district lines “could be an issue.” His opponents so far will also need to move.