It's always a shame to miss a good fight. Still, it's great news for New York that Rep. Carolyn Maloney is waffling about a run against Kirsten Gillibrand for the Democratic Senate nomination.
The East Side congresswoman was expected to announce her Senate candidacy this week, but that's not going to happen. Maloney has delayed any announcement, and it's not even clear whether she'll run against Gillibrand after all. The reasons that would be welcome news are purely pragmatic:
Maloney, 61, has 17 years of seniority in the House, a subcommittee chairmanship and a very good chance of eventually taking over the Committee on Financial Services. If she'd given that up, we'd be the losers. No matter who got to be the next Senator, all New York would have gotten out of the deal would be another freshman representative and a very junior member of the Senate.
Nita Lowey understood all that. When Gov. David Paterson had to choose a successor for Hillary Clinton, the congresswoman from Westchester County was first on everybody's list. Lowey never gave it a thought. She's 11 years older than Maloney, but her situation was pretty much the same. In the House, she has a powerful slot on the Appropriations Committee. In the Senate, she'd be sitting in the last chair at every meeting, listening to a roomful of egomaniacs with more power than her pontificate.
For the Democrats, a Maloney no-show would be a win-win-win situation. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has turned Gillibrand into his own personal prodigy, gets vindicated. Gov. David Paterson gets an upstate woman on the 2010 ticket that he's hoping to head. Every other candidate in the state is thrilled to avoid a divisive, expensive primary that would have soaked up campaign contributions that can now be better directed to, well, them.
For us, the important point is that for a long time, New York didn't really have the kind of muscle in Congress you'd expect from a city that sends Democrats to Washington and then leaves them there until they topple over. It seems that the kinds of talents required to claw your way up in the tough but arthritic world of the local political clubhouses are not exactly the same as the ones necessary to become a great legislator.
Now things are beginning to improve a bit. We don't exactly have a future Daniel Webster on the team, but we've got more clout. Our major powerhouse, of course, is Charles Rangel. The Lion of Lenox Avenue, as Rangel likes to be called, may have trouble remembering to file taxes on his vacation property, but he's still the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and one of the most important people in the Capitol. We've got a friendly neighbor in Lowey, who used to represent part of Queens until the most recent redistricting. Ed Towns of Brooklyn has taken control of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, although he seems determined to use it to keep having the same hearing about the purchase of Merrill Lynch over and over again.
And Maloney should keep moving up in Financial Services. Meanwhile Gillibrand, who's only 42, may have plenty of time to grow into the role of Schumer's successor as the most hyperactive member of the Senate.