To the disappointment of some, but the relief of many, Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday at a raucous press conference complete with, according to the New York Times, a "small group of hecklers hollered vulgar questions at him and called him a 'pervert' while puzzled elderly residents looked on."
We had been told that Weiner left for a rehabilitation facility last Sunday, but either it was a three-day, a drive-through, or an on-line program because he was back in New York City yesterday to make his announcement.
I said shortly after this whole creepy episode broke that, if we knew all there was to know, I would have recommended Weiner see if he could ride out the storm.
There was more and he couldn't.
There were texts to a seventeen-year-old girl which, based upon what we know now, did not include suggestive material but more unsettling - much more unsettling - were the pictures which came to light of Weiner taking photos of himself in a mirror in the Members' gym doing a Michael Jackson (if you know what I mean and I think you do).
So, the good people of New York's 9th Congressional district will be without a representative for a while. Unlike vacancies for the U.S. Senate which are filled either by appointment or election as an individual state sees fit, a vacancy in a U.S. House seat is filled according to the dictates of the U.S. Constitution.
Article I, Section 2 reads: "When vacancies happen in the Representation from any state, the executive authority thereof shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies."
That is, a vacancy in the House can only be filled by a special election, not an appointment.
Why the difference?
Prior to April 1913 U.S. Senators were not elected by popular vote. They were chosen in accordance with Article I, Section 3: "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote."
The original language also provided for filling a vacancy in the U.S. Senate: "If Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies."
The 17th Amendment changed "chosen by the legislature thereof" to "elected by the people thereof" thus providing for the popular election of U.S. Senators.
The second clause of the 17th Amendment gives the Governor the authority to, like an empty House seat "issue writs of election" to fill an empty Senate seat, however it goes on to say: "Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct."
Thus, states have the authority to decide whether a Senate seat should be filled by appointment until the seat would have come up for election in the normal course of events, or fill the seat with a temporary appointment until an election can be held or some variant on that theme.
When Hillary Clinton resigned from the U.S. Senate to become Secretary of State, her seat was temporarily filled by the appointment by the Governor of U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2009.
But, under New York law, that appointment was only good until the next regularly scheduled election which was in 2010. Hillary Clinton's term was scheduled to end in 2013, so Gillibrand has to run again in 2012 for a full six-year term.
One last point about offices without Members: Weiner's employees will maintain their jobs but will work for the office of the Clerk of the House as they respond to constituent requests and inquiries. The phones will no longer be answered "Congressman Weiner's Office" but will be answered with something like "New York 9th District office."
As of last night his official webpage was still available, but that will likely change by the end of the day.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will decide who will fill Weiner's seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
See how this all works?
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the NY Times coverage of Weiner's presser, the full text of the 17th Amendment, to Kirsten Gillibrand's Wikipedia entry and to Weiner's official web page. Also a License Plate Mullfoto and a rare topic appropriate Catchy Caption of the Day.