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Jerry Nadler Wins, But How Long Will He Stay?

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Jerry Nadler soundly defeated Carolyn Maloney in a bruising and bitter Manhattan primary Tuesday night, triumphing in an election that pitted the longtime allies against each other and divided much of the New York political class. But the political chaos for Manhattan Democrats is probably far from over.

Nadler, 75, is all but guaranteed at least one more term in Washington in the solidly Democratic district while Maloney, 76, will be forced into an early retirement. They were thrown into a primary after a court-appointed special master drew a new 12th District that joined the Upper East and Upper West Sides, creating a compact seat that united Manhattan voters and alienated supporters of both Democrats. A third candidate, Suraj Patel, also competed, pitching himself as the generational-change candidate. Given Nadler’s liberal bona fides, including a New York Times endorsement and backing from the vote-rich Upper West Side, his victory appeared assured in the weeks leading up to the election. A last-minute right-wing PAC expenditure against Nadler couldn’t dent his numbers much. Maloney, meanwhile, struggled to repel questions about her history of questioning the safety of vaccination.

Nadler’s age and health will only further fuel a nascent backroom contest to replace him should he choose to retire in the next decade. Maloney herself attacked Nadler for his poor debate performances, citing a New York Post editorial that called him senile. Nadler was not a robust presence on the campaign trail relative to Maloney and Patel, and there’s the open question of how long he’d want to serve if Democrats fall into the minority next year. But so long as Democrats control the House, he will chair the Judiciary Committee. That much is clear.

If Nadler does decide, in 2024 or beyond, to step aside, an open primary for the 12th District may make the fight in the neighboring 10th look like child’s play. The 12th District covers the very wealthiest terrain in America, stretching from the top of Greenwich Village to streets just north of Central Park. The roster of prominent and ambitious elected officials who reside in the area is incredibly large. And there’s no shortage of Dan Goldman–like candidates lurking, well-wired millionaires with deep CVs who may want to drop $5 million or more on a once-in-a-lifetime campaign. Maloney herself could make another go of it. Patel might try a fourth campaign, though bigger names may drown him out.

A post-Nadler 12th could look something like a post–Nancy Pelosi 12th — the difference being that Pelosi enjoys far more clout in the San Francisco district and may be able to anoint her daughter the next representative even as a crowded field fights to replace her. Manhattan Democrats revere Nadler, but he is not the sort of local institution Pelosi remains on the West Coast. He will have little power to tamp down chatter about his future or ward off candidates who want to start fundraising soon. And unlike Pelosi, he could struggle to choose a successor, though his endorsement would go a long way. One natural protégé, Scott Stringer, has struggled to regain his footing after allegations of sexual misconduct destroyed his mayoral bid last year.

It should be noted, too, that Nadler and Maloney could have served in Congress together next year. Nadler represented the lower Manhattan chunk of the new Tenth District seat for decades. He could have decided to simply become the representative for the Tenth — by law, he wouldn’t have to leave his Upper West Side home — and avoid months of political agita. But Nadler wanted to represent the district he lived in, and he didn’t want to move. Maloney was much less familiar with the Tenth, limiting her options. A battle had to be waged. Now another one might loom, bigger and more chaotic than maybe any that has come before.

Jerry Nadler Wins, But How Long Will He Stay?