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New York's Stealth Primary Puts Congress in Spotlight

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Tuesday is primary day for New York. Surprised?

Yeah, they do seem to be going out of their way to keep it a secret. This is the second of three state primary dates. Mitt Romney won the presidential primary in April. (What? You didn't hear about that either?) And on Sept. 13 there will be primaries for the state legislature, an event that will make this week's balloting look as exciting as the elections in Egypt.

Tuesday is all about Congress. Let me give you the rundown.

The Republicans are going to pick a nominee to run this November against Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. The best-known candidate by far is Rep. Bob Turner, who you may remember as the only politician who played a non-embarrassing part in the Anthony Weiner scandal. Turner won Weiner's seat in a special election after the disgraced congressman was forced to resign for the texting of private congressional parts.

It was quite a coup for a Republican to win the seat (which the state legislature promptly redistricted out of existence.) Turner seems like a reasonable guy -- he's refused to sign the crazy anti-tax pledge that's made it impossible for the Republicans to actually do any governing since they took control of Congress. His opponents are Wendy Long, a lawyer who's been endorsed by the Conservative party, and George Maragos, the Nassau County comptroller.

Whoever wins has the seemingly hopeless task of running against Gillibrand, who has the energy level of a baby beagle crossed with a hummingbird and a passion for fundraising that would terrify Bill Clinton.

And then there's a bunch of Democratic primaries for Congress, very few of which can be described with the term "several worthy contenders."

Congressman Charles Rangel is trying to hang onto his somewhat redistricted seat that includes northern Manhattan all the way down to Morningside Heights. Rangel is 82, which is old by some standards but regarded as barely well-ripened in some sectors of Washington. However, being an 82-year-old politician is one thing. Being an 82-year-old politician who's been censured by the House of Representatives for violating the public trust would seem to be operating under a cloud.

His major opponent is State Senator Adriano Espaillat, a product of the area's growing Dominican community. African-American politicians have made it clear they don't intend to lose the Harlem seat in Congress if they can help it, and there have been rumors -- lots of rumors -- that if Rangel is elected, he'll serve a while, and then step down and be replaced by a chosen successor, Assemblyman Keith Wright.

Everyone involved denies this is going to happen. All I can tell you is that it's happened before.

Brooklyn has two primaries, and they're pretty dramatic. One is to replace Rep. Edolphus Towns, whose long and totally undistinguished congressional career is finally coming to an end.

There are two candidates: Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and City Councilman Charles Barron, who is frequently referred to as "Charles Barron who once invited bloody Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe to City Hall."

In his speech declaring his candidacy, Barron cleared that up, saying: "Robert Mugabe is my hero and guess what, so is Muammar Qaddafi!" He's just that kind of guy.

Jeffries is a well-liked lawmaker who co-sponsored the gay marriage bill (which Barron opposed.) He has 10 times as much in campaign funds, and he's been endorsed by every Democratic politician from here to Finland. Everyone thought he was a shoo-in, but recently a Times story noted that Barron had gotten the support of the big public employee union, DC 37, and suggested his candidacy might be "surging."

It's hard to see how that would happen. The newly drawn district has a large chunk of white voters who have been reminded constantly that Barron once said he wanted to "go up to the closest white person... And then slap him just for my mental health." But if Barron wins, expect to hear a lot about him. Maybe we can be sister cities with what's left of Harare.

Meanwhile, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, whose district includes a large chunk of Brooklyn (Williamsburg, Bushwick, Sunset Park), along with Woodhaven, Queens, and part of the Lower East Side faces a primary because she ran afoul of Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic boss. Velazquez has been in Congress for nearly 20 years, and being on the Vito Lopez Enemies List has got to be one of her finest hours. Her opponent is City Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, creature of Vito.

Finally, Rep. Gary Ackerman is leaving his seat in District 6 in Queens, after a redistricting that left it transformed. It's still very heavily Democratic, but now about 40 percent Asian, and Assemblywoman Grace Meng is vying to become the first Asian-American member of Congress from New York City. She has the backing of Ackerman, the Queens Democratic organization, the New York Post and the Times, which praised her main rival, Assemblyman Rory Lancman, but added that while Lancman won a lot of battles, "he often leaves behind a trail of irritation."

God knows we could use less of that.

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332 206
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33 out of 100 seats are up for election. 51 are needed for a majority.
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