- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2010

NEW YORK | Colorful, ethnic, tribal, the New York political scene is much like the Big Apple itself, a bit rough around the edges.

But the political upheaval taking place in the state now has shocked even hardened New Yorkers and added to the Democratic Party’s headaches as it braces for potentially historic losses in the November midterm elections.

Just in the past week:

• Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson dropped his re-election bid because of evidence he may have pressed the girlfriend of his closest top aide to drop charges of domestic violence against the aide. That bombshell, along with accusations that Mr. Paterson broke ethics laws when he sought World Series tickets and then lied about his intention to pay for them, has spurred a drumbeat of calls for his resignation.

• Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the state’s most influential member of Congress, relinquished his post as chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee after the ethics committee found that the Harlem Democrat had broken House rules on accepting gifts.

• Rep. Eric Massa, a freshman Democrat from upstate New York, announced he would retire after a single term after reports he is being investigated by the ethics committee for harassment. Mr. Massa said he was stepping down for health reasons but acknowledged using “salty language” with his staff.

• Then there’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whom Mr. Paterson appointed to serve the rest of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s term after President Obama named Mrs. Clinton secretary of state. Mrs. Gillibrand is widely viewed as weak and nearly drew a primary challenge from former Democratic Tennessee Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., who opted out of the race but wrote a column in the New York Times on Monday blasting party leaders for protecting Mrs. Gillibrand and trying to “bully” him.

• As if she weren’t bruised enough, Mrs. Gillibrand received the political equivalent of a Bronx cheer from New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who said Wednesday that either Mr. Ford or Mort Zuckerman could have beaten her and that voters would be “better off” with more choices. Mr. Zuckerman, a real estate mogul and publisher of the New York Daily News, considered entering the Senate race as a Republican but announced last week he would not run.

“Everywhere you look, there’s an arrogance about New York politics,” said Joseph Mercurio, a political strategist who has worked for both Republicans and Democrats. “Like the rest of the country, most elected officials here are honorable and hardworking and loved by their electorate. But New York has also bred a lot of bad apples.”

The most eye-popping New York political scandal took place exactly two years ago, when Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace after being linked to a high-priced prostitution ring. His departure elevated Mr. Paterson, Mr. Spitzer’s hand-picked candidate for lieutenant governor, who seemed in over his head from the start.

Mr. Paterson botched his highest-profile act as governor, courting Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Robert F. Kennedy’s niece, to replace Mrs. Clinton in the Senate before abruptly picking Mrs. Gillibrand instead.

New York Republicans, however, haven’t done much so far to capitalize on their rivals’ woes, even with so many targets of opportunity. The GOP has an exceedingly thin bench in the state with its few big names - notably former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Gov. George E. Pataki - opting not to run for office this year.

Andrew M. Cuomo, the popular and well-financed attorney general, will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee to replace Mr. Paterson in the governor’s race. Former Rep. Rick Lazio, the likely Republican nominee, lost badly to Mrs. Clinton in the 2000 Senate race and is given little chance against Mr. Cuomo, a political leviathan and the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

The GOP also lost two New York House seats in special elections last year in conservative districts that had long elected Republicans.

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