Interest high in Gillibrand's post; Hamden man tosses hat into ring

By Matthew J. Perry
Kirsten Gillibrand was sworn in to the United States Senate as Hillary Clinton’s replacement yesterday. Back in the 20th Congressional District of New York, which includes most of Delaware County, the major political parties are hustling to find a candidate with the best chance of winning Gillibrand’s old seat in a special election.
The election will occur between 30 and 40 days after Governor Paterson calls for it. Since his office is under no obligation to make that announcement by a particular date, the Democrats could hold a tactical advantage over Republicans, since they could delay the special election until their caucus has decided on the best candidate.
But Republicans enjoy a significant advantage in their number of registered voters, and several heavy hitters in the party have expressed interest in the seat. The Republican committee in each county of the district will have a weighted vote determined by the number of votes the party’s candidate received in the last election.
Delaware County Republicans, with a small population from which to draw, therefore claims just six percent of the pie. Saratoga County, by comparison, will have 32.9 percent, according to John Conklin, director of public information for the state’s Board of Elections.
That means an uphill battle for any Delaware County candidate. Nevertheless, one man from Hamden has decided to play David to the Hudson Valley Goliaths.
He is Robert Bishop, currently serving his first term on the Hamden Town Council and an export and logistics manager for Larsen Farms, a large agribusiness based in Idaho. He has been part of Hamden’s Republican Party on the county committee for 13 years and is a proponent of citizen legislators with an immediate sense of the needs of their would-be constituents.
“I believe politics should not be a career,” Bishop wrote in a statement declaring his candidacy. “We need to build a broad base of citizen involvement and bring folks to the table in a way that will help us meet our challenges.”
But what is vital to Delaware County may not translate well to the populations of Columbia or Duchess county. Local political figures, such as Republican Chairman Leonard Govern and Hamden Supervisor Wayne Marshfield, spoke favorably of Bishop’s qualifications. But neither was ready to invest much hope in his candidacy, considering his lack of name recognition and legislative experience.
Sandy Treadwell, who was defeated handily by Gillibrand last fall, has expressed interest, although one local politician opined that Treadwell was interested in being a “back-up” candidate and was not eager to run. Other prominent names include former Assembly minority leader John Faso, current minority leader Jim Tesdico, and state senator Betty Little. Theoretically, candidates could come from anywhere in the state; federal law does not require candidates to be residents of the district, according to Conklin.
The Democrats will also hold a weighted vote and are considering a varied field of candidates, including former New York Rangers goalie Mark Richter and television news anchor Tracy Egan.
Other parties, such as the Independent, Right To Life, and Green Parties, will choose their candidates by executive committee. An independent nominee could also be on the ballot if they secured 3,500 signatures within 12 days of the special election announcement.
Because the population of the 20th District is so varied, finding the ideal candidate will be a challenge for both parties. Meanwhile, Gillibrand continues to draw praise from some Delaware County legislators, who have remarked on her accessibility and interest in local concerns. Andes Supervisor Marty Donnelly recalled that Gillibrand’s office was especially receptive after floods hit his town in 2008, although he noted that the congressperson’s interest did not result in immediate aid.
“I think she’s very effective and I think we can expect good things from her as a senator,” Donnelly said.