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With Hillary Clinton at State, who gets her N.Y. Senate seat?

December 1, 2008 | 12:47 pm

Hillary Clinton's ascension to diplomat-in-chief creates an opening in the U.S. Senate and a chance for New York's rookie governor, David Paterson, to do himself some political good (or not) in choosing a successor.

Paterson, who became governor in March when Democrat Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a sex scandal involving Ashley Dupre, a.k.a. Kristin, has already said he will not pick himself to replace Clinton once she becomes secretary of State under President Barack Obama.New York Democrat Governor David Paterson who now must pick the successor to Senator Hillary Clinton

"New York state residents have been through enough drama this year," Paterson, pictured here, told reporters when rumors of Clinton's appointment surfaced last month.

That both simplifies things (no need to replace the replacement governor) and complicates matters, as New York pollster Lee Miringhoff points out.

Miringhoff, director of survey research at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, outlined several schools of thought surrounding Paterson's choice, acknowledging "no one really has a clue at this point which way he's going." Among them:

--Paterson needs to replace Clinton with a woman. That yields a number of prospects, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who is philosophically close to Clinton; Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, a former corporate attorney and rising star in state politics, and -- celebrity alert! -- Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late president who delivered a timely primary endorsement of Obama and helped oversee his vice presidential selection process.

--Paterson needs to pick someone from upstate New York, to gain support for an expected run for reelection in 2010. This boosts Gillibrand's prospects and also throws others into the mix, including Rep. Brian Higgins and Buffalo's popular black mayor, Byron Brown.

--Paterson needs to pick a Latino, to assuage an important constituency and help his reelection prospects. Candidates include Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez and Adolfo Carrion Jr., the Bronx borough president.

--Paterson can eliminate a potential headache and possible 2010 primary challenger by appointing the state's ambitious attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, and seeing him off to Washington.

Students of Sacramento will recollect then-Speaker Willie Brown was always happy to see his rivals move up and out, sometimes for the better (Howard Berman) and sometimes not so much (Gary Condit.)

Clinton intends to remain in office through confirmation by the Senate. Whomever Paterson picks would presumably run for reelection in 2010 -- alongside the Democratic incumbent, if the governor has his way -- and again in 2012, when Clinton's term would have expired. So the ability to hang on to the seat is another important consideration for Paterson, who once had designs on the Senate before Spitzer's self-immolation.

In short, New York's chief executive has a great opportunity to make a powerful friend and strengthen his position for reelection -- and also tick off a lot of people disappointed by his choice.

-- Mark Z. Barabak

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Photo credit: Associated Press