By Aaron Blake - 07/09/09 07:20 PM EDT
Former President Bill Clinton caused a political rumpus when he announced he was hosting a fundraiser for Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is challenging the Democratic incumbent for his wife’s former Senate seat.
The controversy showed what a tight spot New York lawmakers are in — endorse a longtime colleague who’s running for higher office or support the incumbent senator of their own party, who was appointed to the seat over many of their objections.
Maloney’s coming campaign puts New York Democrats in an awkward situation and, thus far, they are taking the cautious approach.
Of the 14 members of New York’s Democratic delegation who have yet to endorse in the Senate primary, most are keeping their powder dry and some one-time Gillibrand critics are giving her a fair shot at their support, according to survey by The Hill.
Maloney is in her ninth term in the House and is much better-known to her colleagues than is Gillibrand, who served just more than one term. But nobody is jumping headlong into Maloney’s camp just yet.
Eleven of the state’s 26 Democratic House members have already endorsed Gillibrand, and with Maloney running, that leaves a sweepstakes for 14 endorsements.
Most members weren’t eager to be quoted for this story. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the White House have both worked behind the scenes trying to affect the outcome in Gillibrand’s favor, including nudging Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) away from a primary challenge.
The usually talkative Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) offered little more than a wide grin when asked about the Senate race.
“I’m not going to make any statement on that,” Crowley said when asked whom he is backing. Crowley also demurred when asked whether he is being lobbied and what he thought of the Clinton fundraiser for Maloney.
His people explained at the time that he was merely raising money for people who supported his wife for president. He also raised money for Gillibrand this year.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) seemed to poke fun at that explanation this week.
“From what I read he said he’s doing a fundraiser for people who supported his wife for president, so I’m going to call him,” Ackerman said wryly. “And if I need to, I’ll have to declare for the Senate race in order to get my fundraising from him.”
Ackerman hasn’t decided whom to endorse in the race.
“It’s going to be a heavyweight battle, and I’ve got a ringside seat,” Ackerman said. “I’m just watching, with great confidence in the Democratic electorate of New York. We’ll see how the campaign unfolds.”
Ackerman and other members of the delegation suggested they might not take sides at all — a testament to the tough spot they’re in. But even if a member wants to stay neutral, they are sure to come under plenty of pressure to endorse.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) told The Hill that he was already being lobbied three weeks ago.
“I’ve talked to both and right now I’m on the sidelines, and I’ll stay there, at least for now,” Bishop said. He added that he is “pleased” at Gillibrand’s stances on key issues.
Gillibrand’s conservative-leaning record in the House was cause for concern for Bishop and several other members of the delegation when she first was appointed to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s former Senate seat. Since then, she has moved to the left on issues like gun control, and she seems to be pleasing her former House colleagues.
She has even worked on gun legislation with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), who was the first to threaten a primary challenge. The coalition was billed as a sign McCarthy might back Gillibrand, but a source close to the situation said this week that it wasn’t the case.
At the same time, others have warmed to Gillibrand.
“I think that she was representing her constituents, and I’m not concerned about it,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said recently of her time in the House. “I’ve talked to her since, and she has satisfied me with her positions representing the entire state of New York.”
But Engel then added a caveat: “Carolyn Maloney is also a valued friend and colleague. It’s very difficult when two colleagues are running against each other.”
No member said definitely that they would stay out of the contest, but Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) wasn’t anxious to get involved, considering his own tough reelection battle.
“It’s not for me to be involved in that process,” he said. “I’m very focused on my own district.”
Rep. Louise Slaughter’s (D-N.Y.) office suggested she also might not endorse. Rep. Paul Tonko’s (D-N.Y.) office said he would eventually endorse.
Crowley suggested he would take a wait-and-see approach.
“We have a lot of talent in New York,” he said. “There’s a process here. We’ll see what develops and what doesn’t develop.”
J. Taylor Rushing and Mike Soraghan contributed to this report.
Rep. Michael Arcuri
Rep. Yvette Clark
Rep. John Hall
Rep. Brian Higgins
Rep. Maurice Hinchley
Rep. Nita Lowey
Rep. Mike McMahon
Rep. Gregory Meeks
Rep. Scott Murphy
Rep. Edolphus Towns
Rep. Nydia Velazquez
Rep. Gary Ackerman
Rep. Tim Bishop
Rep. Joe Crowley
Rep. Eliot Engel
Rep. Steve Israel*
Rep. Dan Maffei
Rep. Eric Massa
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy*
Rep. Jerrold Nadler
Rep. Charles Rangel
Rep. Jose Serrano*
Rep. Louise Slaughter
Rep. Paul Tonko
Rep. Anthony Weiner
* considered running against Gillibrand