By Joe Anuta
After three weeks of media frenzy surrounding Weinergate and a curt final press conference last Thursday, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner officially left Congress Tuesday, creating a unique political vacuum in his district that stretches across much of Queens into Brooklyn.
The Forest Hills Democrat submitted his official resignation letter Monday and was out at midnight Tuesday. His staff will continue to operate his offices for the time being, but the names of several Queens prospects are already being tossed around as replacements for the disgraced lawmaker.
Elected officials like City Council members James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) as well as state Assemblymen Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and David Weprin (D-Little Neck) have already been mentioned as possible successors to Weiner.
Republican Bob Turner, who ran against Weiner last year, and former Council members Melinda Katz and Eric Gioia, both Democrats, have also been mentioned as possible replacements.
Most on the list could not be reached for comment by press time, but talk about the vacant seat has increased now that Weiner has ceased to make headlines around the country and draw a hoard of photographers who followed him from home to office and even to the Laundromat. The frenzy culminated with last Thursday’s press conference, where scores of reporters gathered and a heckler interrupted his farewell speech.
“It is a great privilege to serve as a member of the City Council and as chairman of its Committee on Environmental Protection, and I have been very fortunate to have had my environmental work recognized nationally. And, as the only prospective candidate for the 9th Congressional District who has a national profile on any important issue, it makes sense that I consider this opportunity, which I am doing,” Gennaro said in a statement. “But I cherish my current job, and have not yet made a decision.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo will ultimately decide how the seat will be filled. Cuomo can call a special election, which must take place 70 to 80 days after the announcement.
If the governor wanted to hold the election on Primary Day, since voters will already be out and machines set up, he would have to call the election no later than June 24. Alternatively, Cuomo could choose to leave the seat vacant until 2012.
According to political insiders familiar with the situation, the seat will most likely be in existence for one year only.
After each census, state lawmakers appoint a committee to redraw the lines of electoral districts to reflect any shift in population. ï»¿Since New York will is set to lose two seats, congressional and state politicians from both parties will each decide one seat to eliminate. Since nobody is likely to volunteer, Weiner’s seat was basically served on a silver platter, sources said.
Because of the position’s limited lifespan, Democrats must be careful not to endorse anyone too ambitious, sources said. If the seat is eliminated, the newly elected lawmaker, now out of a job, might try to run against other party members to gain a seat again, sources said.
But Democrats cannot put up too weak of a contender, other insiders said, since the Republican Party had a strong candidate last year in the form of Bob Turner.
Turner garnered 41 percent of the vote and has publicly expressed his desire for the seat.
“This is more than a place holder,” Turner said. “I think there will be many important points that Congress will make running up to the 2012 election of the president.”
But for each party, picking the right candidate right after a scandal also proves complicated, sources said, which is why a woman might do well to take constituents’ minds off the scandal.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.