Chris Smith on Hillary, Paterson, and Who’s Next

By
This is going to be a problem, isn't it?
This is going to be a problem, isn't it? Photo: Getty Images

Will Barack Obama offer Hillary Clinton the job of secretary of State? Yes. He wouldn't have brought her out to Chicago, and publicly confirmed the meeting, only to snub her. That's a headache Obama doesn't need and is too smart to have inflicted upon himself. Will Clinton take the Cabinet post? Probably. As diligently as she's worked on behalf of the state, it's a choice between pancake breakfasts in Massena and bringing peace to the Middle East. Sure, Secretary Clinton means former president Clinton will have to shut down his international consulting business, at least temporarily. But that's a fairly minor loss for the good of the country, right?

So now that those questions are settled, let's move on to the purely speculative and self-interested dominoes: Who's Hillary's replacement? And for how long? First, courtesy of the definitive text, Goldfeder's Modern Election Law, some of the arcane but important procedural details. New York makes things even more complicated, naturally, by having different rules for different years. If Hillary leaves her Senate seat in an even-numbered year (that is, by the end of 2008), Governor Paterson appoints a replacement who serves until January 3, 2010. There would be a special election in November 2009 to fill the remainder of Clinton's term, which runs through 2012.

If, however, the vacancy doesn't occur until January 2009, the replacement serves until January 3, 2011. A special election would take place in November 2010 to fill the (short) remainder of the Clinton term.

The fun really begins, though, if Paterson appoints himself to Clinton's Senate seat. Because there's currently no lieutenant governor, thanks to Eliot Spitzer's hasty exit and the state's peculiar laws, New York's acting governor would be the majority leader of the State Senate. That's Republican Dean Skelos — well, at least until January. After that, nobody knows, because even though the Democrats won a majority in the State Legislature in last week's elections, Albany is in the middle of a chaotic leadership struggle, which has turned the election results into mere suggestions.

That chaos makes it highly unlikely Paterson will leave — tempting as it might be to walk away from a $12 billion deficit — plus the fact that Paterson actually enjoys being governor. So who will he pick, if not himself? There are the usual suspects — Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Congressman Greg Meeks, RFK Jr. But even though Paterson's ability to do things totally out of the blue should never be underestimated, he'll be calculating which replacement pick will do him the most good when Paterson runs for reelection in 2010. Demographically, that's an easy decision: an upstate Latina Democrat. Finding a real person who fits is tougher, of course. But why bog down speculation with reality?

Earlier: Obama Advisers Pushing Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State