- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2009

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) | Sen. Bill Clinton? Sen. Mario Cuomo? Don’t completely rule it out.

The former president and the former New York governor are among several boldface names being touted as possible “caretakers” for New York’s Senate seat — people who would serve until the 2010 elections but wouldn’t be interested in running to keep the job.

As the process of picking Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s replacement gets messier, the option may become increasingly attractive to Gov. David Paterson, who has sole authority to name a successor.

A spokesman for Mr. Clinton, Matt McKenna, said Wednesday that the former chief executive isn’t interested in the job and plans to continue the work of his foundation. Mr. Cuomo declined through a spokesman to discuss the Senate seat.

A big name could have an immediate impact for New York in the Senate while letting the large field of hopefuls duke it out in 2010 for the last two years of Mrs. Clinton’s term, according to three Democratic Party advisers in New York and Washington who are close to the discussion with Mr. Paterson’s inner circle.

Two others in the party confirmed that Mr. Paterson is considering the caretaker option. The advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment.

“You could find a very senior person who could serve New York well” on an interim basis, said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and dean at the State University of New York at New Paltz. “Then you can say to Caroline Kennedy, ‘You know, you’d make a good senator. Run for it.’ And you can tell everyone else that it’s a level playing field.”

Mr. Paterson has made it clear in recent days that he’s getting annoyed by the constant jockeying by supporters of high-powered hopefuls, including Ms. Kennedy, half a dozen members of Congress and state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, son of the former governor.

The candidates — especially Ms. Kennedy — have made daily headlines as Mr. Paterson tries to focus on a fiscal crisis of historic proportions, his first budget proposal and preparations for his first full legislative session as governor.

He took office last spring after disgraced Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, resigned in the wake of a prostitution scandal.

The caretaker option was exercised last month by Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who picked Ted Kaufman, a former aide to Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., to succeed Mr. Biden in the Senate until a new senator is elected in 2010. By then, Mr. Biden’s son, state Attorney General Beau Biden, will have returned from a tour in Iraq with the National Guard in time to run for his father’s seat.

A week ago, Mr. Paterson said he favored appointing a senator soon after Mrs. Clinton’s expected confirmation to start building seniority, and he ruled out an interim placeholder.

The process, however, wasn’t supposed to be a big distraction.

Some of the other names circulating as possible caretakers among party operatives include the state’s retired top jurist, Judith Kaye, and former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, now president of the New School in New York City.

Ms. Kaye declined through a spokesman Tuesday to discuss the Senate seat; Mr. Kerrey and Mr. Paterson did not respond to questions Tuesday and Wednesday.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll, said the caretaker option wouldn’t surprise him.

“To pick a caretaker is to say … ‘Win it in the court of public opinion,´” he said.

An interim appointment also could sidestep an internal struggle in New York’s Democratic Party.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — the longest-serving and most powerful legislative leader in the state — has reservations about Ms. Kennedy, and Mr. Paterson needs Mr. Silver if he wants to battle powerful labor interests to turn around the state’s fiscal problems.

But Kennedy supporters include New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent who is another important ally for Mr. Paterson.

Meanwhile, the handicapping continues about the prospects of some of the lesser-known contenders.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York City, who is known as a tenacious legislator, has been endorsed by three feminist groups: the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Political observers say Mr. Paterson is under pressure to pick a woman because all the state’s top leaders - except Mrs. Clinton - are men.

Doug Muzzio, professor of politics at Baruch College, isn’t convinced.

“If in fact you are looking to appoint a senator who can be an effective advocate for the people of the state, those two years you can learn a lot and to give that up is problematic.”

But Mr. Muzzio also sees some benefit to Mr. Paterson in picking a caretaker.

“If he is feeling trapped about this Caroline Kennedy thing, this gives him, in a sense, a way out … without naming someone else that would really anger the pro-Kennedy people,” he said.

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