A Look At History Tells Us How NYS Officals Are Elected
By HENRY STERN
Last week was Election Day In the four-year election cycle we elect the President in leap years, 2004, 2008, (when the Summer Olympics are held). The Governor, State Comptroller and Attorney General are elected in even-numbered years which are not leap years, 2006, 2010 (when the Winter Olympics are held).
United States Senators are elected in even-numbered years for six year terms. Senator Chuck Schumer was first elected in 1998, ousting Senator Al D’Amato, who had served three terms (18 years). He was re-elected in 2004 with 71 percent of the vote. Senator Hillary Clinton first ran in 2000 for the seat vacated when Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan retired after four terms. She was re-elected in 2006 with 67 percent of the vote. There will be no election for the Senate in New York in 2008, because the incumbents’ terms do not expire until January 3, 2011 (Schumer) and January 3, 2013 (Clinton).
It is possible, however, that a vacancy may occur in one of the Senate seats on or about January 20, 2009. In that case, the governor will have the opportunity to select a person to fill the vacancy. The governor’s choice will serve through the 2010 election. You may reasonably ask this question: Why not have the governor fill the vacancy until the next regular election day, in November 2009, and let the voters decide then who will fill the balance of the term of the departing (or departed) senator.
Until 1950, the one-year appointment was the rule in New York State. When a vacancy occurred in a senate seat the governor filled it by appointing someone to serve through the end of the year. A successor was then chosen by the voters on election day. Prior to the adoption of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in April 1913, senators were chosen by state legislatures.
Senator Robert F. Wagner, author of the Wagner (National Labor Relations) Act and the Social Security Act, had been Democratic leader in the New York State Senate, and later a justice of the New York Supreme Court, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1926, and re-elected in 1932, 1938 and 1944. During has last term, he became seriously ill and was physically unable to perform most of his duties. He did not appear on the senate floor for some years.
He retained his Senate seat, however, until he was advised to resign in 1949 just in time to have the vacancy filled at the general election that year. As luck would have it, there was a regular mayoral election in New York City in 1949 as well. The mayoral election would bring out a large vote downstate, primarily Democrats. There were no comparable elections upstate, therefore, the turnout in predominantly Republican areas was likely to be lighter.
The strategy worked. The Democratic-Liberal Senate candidate, former Governor Herbert H. Lehman, narrowly defeated John Foster Dulles, the interim senator appointed by Governor Thomas E, Dewey. Dulles was appointed Secretary of State by President Eisenhower in 1953. His brother, Allen W. Dulles, was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1953 to 1961. John Foster Dulles’ son, Avery, raised a Presbyterian, converted to Catholicism in 1940 and was created a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
The New York State Republicans, incensed at the disadvantage at which they had been placed by a carefully timed resignation, wanted to ensure that they never again lost a Senate seat because of the timing of a resignation. Being in control of the state legislature, they changed the law so that senate elections would only be held in even numbered years.
That revision did not help the Grand Old Party too much in 1950. There was a special mayoral election in New York City that year. It was caused by the precipitous resignation of Mayor William O’Dwyer, who was appointed by President Truman as Ambassador to Mexico, in part to get him out of the reach of law enforcement authorities in the United States.
The 1950 mayoral election was won by the Experience Party candidate, acting Mayor Vincent R, Impellitteri, who served the remaining three years of O’Dwyer’s term. He was defeated in the 1953 Democratic primary by Manhattan Borough President Robert F. Wagner, Jr., son and namesake of the United States Senator whose timely resignation began this tale, and father of the Robert F. Wagner, Jr. who was elected City Councilmember at Large in 1973 and later served as chairman of the City Planning Commission, Deputy Mayor and president of the Board of Education in the administration of Mayor Ed Koch.
O’Dwyer’s younger brother, Paul, later served as Councilman-at-Large for two years and City Council President from 1974 to 1977. He had come in fourth in the 1965 Democratic mayoral primary, trailing Abe Beame, Paul Screvane and William Fitts Ryan. Beame, the primary winner, ran second to Mayor John V, Lindsay (Republican-Liberal) in the November election, with William F. Buckley, Jr., (Conservative), a strong third with 341,000 votes, about 13.4 percent of the total. Buckley was the most intelligent candidate in the race, but his views were probably not those of many of his prospective constituents.
This trip into political history demonstrates that everything is connected.