/Lowey retirement kicks off scramble for rare, open congressional seat

Lowey retirement kicks off scramble for rare, open congressional seat

Nita Lowey | Getty Images

Democrats have the advantage in the district, with about 220,000 registered Democrats and 108,000 Republicans. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

NEW YORK — The retirement of Rep. Nita Lowey has kicked off a scramble among Democratic politicians for her New York seat, which will be open for the first time in more than three decades.

Hours after the 82-year-old Lowey announced that she would not seek reelection next year, observers were already floating the names of several local politicians as possible successors — including Assemblymembers David Buchwald (D-White Plains), Amy Paulin (D-Westchester) and Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh), and state Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown).

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The biggest name among potential contenders is Chelsea Clinton — long rumored as a possible candidate for the seat if it became vacant, though she’s given no public hint of plans to jump in.

Before announcing her retirement, Lowey, the powerful chair of the House Appropriations Committee and a steadfast ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was already facing a challenge from the left by former Obama administration staffer Mondaire Jones.

The 32-year-old Jones, who is aiming to become the first openly gay black member of Congress, brought in more than $218,000 for the race over the last three months, his campaign said Thursday.

“There’s never been an openly gay, black member of Congress — because people like me don’t usually get anywhere close,” he said in a statement. “But we’re about to make history.”

While the progressive challenger had been going after Lowey for failing to fight for the district, he praised her Thursday for her “years of inspiring service to the district” and called her “a trailblazer for women and minorities such as myself.”

Democrats have the advantage in the district, with about 220,000 registered Democrats and 108,000 Republicans.

“I think it probably will generate a great deal of interest because we have not seen an open congressional seat in Westchester in decades,” said former Republican state Sen. Nick Spano, whose family has long had an outsize influence in the county. “So this will be a generational change, and it’s going to reflect the demographic changes in the Hudson Valley.”

Evan Stavisky, a campaign consultant who has worked for Lowey in the past, said the race could be competitive for Republicans.

“It’s a good Democratic district, but this is not a slam dunk Democratic district,” he said. “A Democrat should be expected to win, but if they can’t appeal to moderate suburbanites, there could be a challenge.”

On the Republican side, Rockland County GOP Chairman Lawrence Garvey said that he’s “already heard from some very interesting people that are at least going to take a look at it.”

“I think it’s exciting; a little bit unexpected,” he said. “But it certainly opens up an opportunity for Republicans to win.”

One prominent Republican who has won races in the district in the past is former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2014 opponent and a current political commentator on CNN.

“People are talking to Astorino and his team is looking at it,” said Bill O’Reilly, a former spokesperson for Astorino. “He’s happy with his current life situation, but it’s worth taking a look at, certainly.”

A crowded field could shrink should Clinton — whose family lives in Westchester, though she currently lives in Manhattan — choose to jump in, Spano said. “I would think that there are certain candidates that could clear the decks and that Chelsea Clinton is one of them.”

Clinton’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Some local Democrats acknowledged a potential interest Thursday in jumping into the race.

“I really want to think this through before I jump into it. But in full transparency, it’s something that I’ve thought about for a long time,” said Carlucci, who like the other state legislators, would need to give up his seat to mount a congressional bid. “I’m going to talk to my family and friends and residents and really assess where I can be most effective.”

Buchwald — who authored the legislation that theoretically gives Congress the power to obtain President Donald Trump’s New York state tax returns — was mentioned by several observers as a likely entrant.

The Assemblyman, who interned in Lowey’s Washington office in 1997, did not deny having an eye on the seat, but said, “Today is a day to recognize the accomplishments of Congresswoman Lowey.”

Abinanti said he’d “certainly consider” a run, but expects plenty of others to take the plunge as well.

“I’m expecting that every elected official who lives in Nita’s district will look at the opportunity and weigh it to see if its worth jumping into the primary,” Abinanti said. “The leading contenders are people who would have to give up important positions in order to enter a contested primary, but this is a real opportunity to move to the center of chaos and hopefully be part of the solution.”

Others in the party reached by POLITICO Thursday said they’re still looking to find their footing in the aftermath of the announcement.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Westchester) said she was just as surprised as anyone else on Thursday, but that calls to her office were already piling up. She did not confirm or shoot down an inquiry into her interest.

“I honestly just heard 30 seconds ago, maybe even 15,” Paulin said. “I have no thoughts now, but will be doing a little investigating. I assure you I will let everybody know when I have a sense of what’s going on.”

The counties in the district have repeatedly backed establishment Democrats rather than members of the new crop of progressive challengers. Former Mount Kisco resident Cuomo received 72 percent of the vote in Westchester when he was challenged in the race for governor by actress and activist Cynthia Nixon last year; he received 67 percent in Rockland.

There’s optimism among progressives, however, that the district might welcome somebody from the left.

“Nita’s a perfect example of somebody who on paper isn’t supposed to win in a place like Westchester,” said Shannon Powell, co-founder of Indivisible Westchester, which does not endorse in primaries. “There’s nothing in my mind that says somebody else like a modern-day Nita couldn’t do the same thing right now.”

One top Democrat who’s very familiar with the district will not be seeking the seat — Cuomo, who until recently lived in Westchester with his now-ex girlfriend Sandra Lee.

“The Governor made very clear during last year’s election that he’s going to serve out his entire term,” spokesperson Rich Azzopardi said Thursday.

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