According to Jose Serrano, Kirsten Gillibrand is going after the low-hanging fruit first.
In the days since Representative Steve Israel decided not to consider a primary against Gillibrand, following calls from President Barack Obama and Senator Chuck Schumer, other members of the New York Congressional delegation have quickly lined up in support of Gillibrand: Nita Lowey, Maurice Hinchey, Brian Higgins, Michael McMahon, Yvette Clarke, John Hall, Michael Arcuri. Soon Nydia Velasquez and Ed Towns are expected to make their support public. Anthony Weiner is considered supportive, too.
“I think what is happening, with all due respect to them, is that when you begin to get a lot of calls of people saying we have got to put this to bed and this has to end, if they get a call from higher-ups in the party they succumb to that,” said Serrano. “I understand that. I was there in the early days when you lose sleep over a phone call and you don’t know what to do with it. Those days aren’t there for me anymore. I’ve been in office for 35 years.”
Serrano, who told Liz that he thinks Obama’s White House acted like Tammany Hall in forcing out Israel, said that very few people in the delegation, including those who have endorsed her, are “jumping for joy” about the momentum building around her. He said he now counts himself with Carolyn Maloney and Carolyn McCarthy as potential challengers to Gillibrand.
“Maloney told me she is running,” added Serrano. “McCarthy is still waiting to see who doesn’t run. And if the field narrows down to no one running, she may do it.”
It is quite possible that Serrano has no intention of running, and that his last-ditch effort to cause trouble for Gillibrand is mostly motivated by his objection to the fact that no one has seen fit to take him seriously enough to call. (“I think he is genuinely hurt that he wasn’t considered,” said one member of the delegation.) But either way, the fact that he is making these kinds of noises—just as the Gillibrand campaign is attempting to convey momentum in gaining support from the once-aggrieved House delegation—is not great news for the party leaders looking to avoid making the 2010 Senate race any more interesting than it already is.
“As the dean, I wish we didn’t have a primary,” said Representative Charlie Rangel, the dean of the New York Congressional delegation. “But having said that, I don’t think it’s up to me or anyone else what their political ambitions should be kept at just for the sake of unity. It’s just not fair. I’m not going to tell them not to run.”
Rangel, one of the most senior officials in the House, said that he himself has received no pressure from Gillibrand’s office, from Schumer or from the White House to support her, and he said that he would endorse Gillibrand if she ran unchallenged. He said he didn’t know what he would do if there was a primary.
“It depends on if there is anyone running,” he said. “And I don’t think there would be.”
Gillibrand has actively sought to ensure that there isn’t one, and has worked to convince some of her former critics, like Velasquez, that she is not as conservative as she was when she represented a mostly Republican district upstate.
But there are still holdouts. And Serrano said they are senior enough to resist even the strongest institutional pressures.
Several sources echoed Serrano’s claims that state and national party leaders have aggressively sought to pressure members of the delegation to get behind Gillibrand, and expressed frustration with the White House for injecting itself into a state primary. Gillibrand’s office, one Congressional source noted, has offered to help carry pet legislation or talk to senior administration officials in order to get one member’s bills moved along.
“When Senator Gillibrand was in the House, then Senator Clinton was always willing to work with her on her priorities,” said Gillibrand’s spokesman, Matt Canter. “That’s the kind of senator she plans to be.”
The support Gillibrand most covets is that of liberal downstate representatives, who have thus far been reluctant to endorse. Their support would amount to a kosherizing effect on Gillibrand for many progressives wary of her past positions.
Perhaps first among that class of legislator is Representative Jerry Nadler, who is yet to support Gillibrand.
“You get Jerry Nadler’s endorsement, that means a lot to a lot of people,” Serrano said. “Jerry is one of the finest legislators and progressive voices we have.”
In addition to Nadler and Israel, Eliot Engel, Joe Crowley, Gary Ackerman, Louise Slaughter, Eric Massa, Paul Tonko and Timothy Bishop, all Democrats, have still not endorsed.
“I don’t think any of this matters to their reelection,” said a member of the delegation, speaking on background. “And if she is successful, they’ll reestablish a connection.”
And, of course, there is Serrano, who holds a grudge against Gillibrand for her past positions on immigration and what he considers the “botched” way in which she was appointed.
“We don’t have a relationship,” he said.