Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rep. Nydia Velazquez is Front-runner for Senate Seat if Hillary Takes Cabinet Job by Elizabeth Benjamin - MY Daily News

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There are two other top contenders: Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo and Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island. Each would help Paterson with key constituencies when he makes his first run in 2010 for the post he inherited from disgraced Gov. Eliot Spitzer - upstaters in Higgins' case and suburbanites in Israel's.

Velazquez offers the tantalizing possibility of killing two political birds with one stone by appealing to Hispanics and women - both critical voting blocs.

"They think she's a twofer," said the source close to Paterson, who would get to pick Clinton's replacement. "She's a woman and a Latina and therefore a home run. He's feeling tremendous pressure in western New York, which he has to win to win the general election. But the closer pressure he's feeling right now is from the Hispanic community."

Picking Velazquez might help Paterson win favor with two members of the so-called Gang of Three who are withholding support from current state Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith and preventing him from becoming the majority leader.

Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. and Sen.-elect Pedro Espada Jr. have made it clear they are upset over the lack of Hispanic representation among the upper echelons of state government. Espada has even floated himself to be majority leader instead of Smith.

In 1992, Velazquez became the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House. She is the only member of the state's congressional delegation who represents parts of three boroughs: Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.

Velazquez was an outspoken Clinton supporter during the Democratic presidential primary and urged Barack Obama to pick Clinton as his running mate as a means to woo Hispanic voters.

There has been rampant speculation about who might replace Clinton since she emerged last week as a contender to be a member of Obama's cabinet. Paterson can even pick himself, but that is highly unlikely.

Although Paterson Sunday refused to "speculate on something that's not real," he did share some general thoughts with the Daily News about picking a Clinton replacement.

Paterson insisted "no one is in and no one is out." He touted the "great credentials" and Washington experience of his potential 2010 rival, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who was Bill Clinton's housing secretary.

The governor rejected the suggestion that if he did choose Cuomo, it would be to benefit his election chances: "I don't see Andrew as any prospective challenge to me; he's told me time and time again he doesn't want to run against me."

He also said a "qualified upstater" would be valuable "because we don't have a person from upstate that's in our statewide government structure right now."

The governor denied recent claims by Diaz and Espada that he said he would prefer to see a Hispanic Senate majority leader rather than Smith, who, like Paterson, is African-American.

Paterson did say, however, that he felt "at some point it would be a very good opportunity to have a person of Hispanic descent as a city or statewide leader."

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