Illinois Scandal Puts Spotlight on Hillary Clinton’s Vacant Senate Seat

December 12, 2008 - 5:42 PM
The corruption scandal engulfing Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich puts a spotlight on the nation's only other vacant Senate seat - that of Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York.

In this Dec. 1, 2008 file photo, New York Gov. David Paterson speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)

Albany, N.Y. (AP) - The corruption scandal engulfing Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich puts a spotlight on the nation's only other vacant Senate seat - that of Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York.
 
New York Gov. David Paterson, who will choose Clinton's replacement, can expect more intense scrutiny after Blagojevich's arrest on charges that he tried to sell the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
 
The day Blagojevich was arrested, Paterson spokesman Errol Cockfield said the New York governor would "take any necessary steps to ensure that the selection of a new senator is not compromised in any way."
 
But Cockfield did not identify any specific additional safeguards. A day later, Paterson said his process was unchanged: He's looking for someone with integrity, with ideas to move the state, and a hard worker.
 
But in addition to a candidate's qualifications, Paterson's choice also needs to serve his own political and fundraising needs - both now and when he seeks election on the same 2010 ticket as the next senator.
 
Paterson needs a strong candidate who can raise plenty of money and attract important voting blocs in his quest to be elected to the job he fell into in March, when Eliot Spitzer resigned after it was revealed that he patronized a high-priced prostitution ring.
 
"This is a country with a two-party system, and politics will play a significant role" in Paterson's decision, said Karl Sleight, former prosecutor and head of the New York Ethics Commission under Republican and Democratic governors. "Unlike any other job, you have to take that into consideration."
 
So what should potential senators do to seek the job? Not a thing, Paterson said, other than demonstrating their qualifications.
 
The governor said he would not accept any "attempts at undue influence or anything that would in any way impinge upon the process."
 
He spoke Wednesday at a fundraiser in Manhattan, where he had just collected a reported $3 million for his 2010 campaign.
 
It's impossible to know if some potential senator tried to curry favor with the governor by purchasing a $5,000 ticket to attend the gala because Paterson isn't required to release the names of attendees until January.
 
Neither Paterson nor the state Democratic Party would talk Thursday about Senate hopefuls or the fundraiser.
 
And neither of two potential senators - New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg - attended the fundraiser.
 
New York Republican Party coordinator Henry Wojtaszek has already complained that the selection process has not been transparent. He would like to see Paterson identify possible candidates and have a public review of their qualifications.
 
"Stop playing footsie with the Kennedy and Cuomo clans and instead announce an open and transparent process that will publicly identify potential candidates," Wojtaszek said. "We have already seen what happens in Illinois."