Eric Massa (D-29th District)
By BRIAN TUMULTY
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Gov. David Paterson is backing away from his earlier pledge to call a special election in the state's 29th Congressional District as soon as possible. The seat was held by former Congressman Eric Massa, who resigned in February.
"We have some serious concerns about the financial impact that a special election could have on the county level, especially because those counties are facing the same fiscal crisis that the state is facing,'' Maggie McKeon, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.
McKeon indicated no decision has been made on whether to wait until the Nov. 2 general election to fill the seat, but she said the governor also is concerned about disenfranchising voters serving in the military overseas.
Paterson didn't raise those issues last year when he called special elections to fill vacancies in two other congressional districts.
A March 31 special election in the 20th Congressional District filled the seat vacated Jan. 26 by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to the Senate by Paterson. A special election in the 23rd Congressional District, held the same day as the Nov. 3 general election, filled the seat vacated by Secretary of Army John McHugh, who resigned from Congress Sept. 21.
The 29th District, which covers eight counties in Western New York, has been unrepresented in Congress since March 9 when the House accepted the resignation of former Rep. Eric Massa, a freshman Democrat from Corning.
Massa cited several reasons for his departure, including a possible recurrence of cancer, his unwillingness to fight a House ethics committee inquiry into alleged sexual harassment of a staff member, and disgust over partisan politics.
Former Corning mayor Tom Reed, a Republican who began campaigning for Massa's seat in July last year, told reporters Wednesday he wants the special election to be held as soon as possible.
Reed accused two Democratic county leaders of trying to delay the election until November because Democrats would lose the seat if the election were held this spring. "It is enough of old-school politics,'' Reed said.
He estimated the cost of a special election, which would be paid by the counties, at $700,000 to $750,000.
The state Board of Elections, which would oversee the special election, hasn't estimated the cost, according to spokesman John Conklin.
Steuben County Democratic Party Chairman Shawn Hogan, one of the party leaders who prefers waiting until November, thinks the cost of a special election isn't justified, given that the winning candidate would serve only a short time before the congressional summer recess.
"I would have a different opinion if Massa (had) resigned in December or in January,'' Hogan said.
The House begins its summer recess August 6.
If the governor called this week for a special election, it likely would be held the first week of May. That would allow the new representative to serve for three months prior to the August recess.
Democrats are working to select a candidate based on the assumption a special election will be held, Hogan said.
Eight candidates who submitted their resumes to party leaders were interviewed by phone Monday night. A candidate will be selected after the four finalists are interviewed in person early next week, Hogan said.
Among the finalists are: Matt Zeller, a Central Intelligence Agency analyst who works in the Washington area but whose parents live in Victor; Mary Wilmot of Pittsford, who works for the governor; and David Nachbar of Honeoye Falls, a retired executive from Bausch and Lomb.
Reed, the Republican candidate, acknowledged that Democrats needed time to select a candidate, but he said they've taken too long.
Voters in the 29th District need a representative to vote on important issues such as a cap-and-trade energy bill and immigration reform, Reed said.
The House approved an energy bill last year that is awaiting action by the Senate, which will act only if a bipartisan deal is reached. And the House is unlikely to take up immigration reform unless the Senate first approves a bipartisan bill.
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