With Weiner's exit, is his House seat safe for Democrats?

Local Republicans see an opening, but they'd need to persuade the national GOP to invest in a special election in N.Y. Ninth. Anthony Weiner resigned the seat Thursday amid a sexting scandal.

Seth Wenig/AP
Anthony Weiner announces his resignation from Congress during a news conference in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday, June 16. Who will fill the House seat after disgraced Rep. Weiner gave up?

The House seat that disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) of New York gave up on Thursday has long been considered bona fide Democratic territory, bolstered by a 3-to-1 party advantage in registered voters.

But local Republicans have more than a glimmer of hope now that Mr. Weiner has resigned, after having tweeted lewd photos of himself to various women and lied about it. They are pressing their case to the national GOP to invest in a bid to snatch the Ninth Congressional District from Democrats in a special election, which could take place as soon as August (but probably no later than November).

A Republican takeover of the district – which stretches from the picturesque beach community of Breezy Point in Brooklyn to the apartment complexes and kosher delis of Rego Park in Queens – would be an uphill battle, but not impossible.

In May, voters in another special election in New York switched parties after the incumbent was caught in an online impropriety. Rep. Chris Lee (R) resigned his seat in a heavily GOP district near Buffalo when it became known that the congressman, who is married, had sent a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met on craigslist.com. Voters turned around and elected a Democrat (though a fight over Medicare may have played a bigger role).

Local Republicans also note that Weiner won in 2010 with 60 percent of the vote at a time when other Democratic candidates were winning by larger margins. Although the Ninth District has a high percentage of typically liberal Jewish voters, many are Orthodox. They tend to vote along more conservative lines, as do the district's contingent of naturalized citizens from Russia.

Craig Eaton, head of the Kings County (Brooklyn) Republican Party, says a serious GOP bid is worth a shot. Once the Weiner sexting revelations broke, Mr. Eaton reached out to the national party, anticipating that the congressman would have to resign.

“The single biggest need is money,” he said in a phone interview. “We have to make sure we have the necessary funding to run a competitive race.”

One factor that could change the dynamic is that the Ninth District, as currently configured, may not be around for long.

In 2012 New York will be losing two congressional seats as a result of redistricting after the 2010 Census. This summer, the state legislature in Albany will be responsible for consolidating one Republican district upstate and one Democratic district closer to New York City.

With Weiner out and unable to defend the turf, “this could be one way to make a very bloody battle a little less contentious,” says Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University political scientist and director of the school’s Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy.

Republicans are guessing that the district will be carved up. “In my opinion it will be a totally different district in 2012,” says Mr. Eaton.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the long-term existence of the district, a lot of local politicians may be interested in running, says Mr. Panagopoulos. “You don’t often get an open congressional seat,” he says.

Some Democrats on the New York City Council who face term limits have already said they are interested in running for Weiner’s seat.

They won’t need to run in a primary, according to political leaders, who say the party bosses will choose the candidates.

On the Republican side, Eaton says he has already talked to two or three individuals and is set to talk with others. He says that Robert Turner, a business executive who ran against Weiner in 2010, is interested in running again. Several calls to Mr. Turner's home were not answered.

In Weiner’s district, many voters said Thursday that his resignation was unavoidable. As she walked along the street in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn, Miriam Prussman, a mother and sales representative, said Weiner had no choice “because it was going to stay with him.”

To Ms. Prussman, Weiner’s actions are representative of a broader erosion of public trust in elected officials. “We are trying to instill values in our society,” she said. “The morals we’ve tried to found in our government are going haywire.”

A part of Weiner’s district includes a sizeable number of Orthodox Jews and Russian immigrants. They often have a more conservative posture, reflected in the words of Rabbi Avrohom Davis, who says this of Weiner's behavior: “No one should get involved in such a thing.”

To the rabbi, the sordid nature of the Weiner affair “is not the kind of image we want to pass on to the youth.”

However, Weiner was also popular in the district, as reflected in a poll released by the Marist Institute of Public Opinion on June 9 that found 56 percent of the voters in his district did not think he should resign.

George Liaw, a legal assistant who lives in the district, said Weiner has "done a good job" and didn't do anything outside the law. But because of the public scrutiny applied to elected officials, Weiner's online escapades were especially risky, he said. "This was a little too much."

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