The ink may barely be dry on the ballots from Election Day, but politicos in the 11 counties that make up New York’s 19th Congressional District are already looking ahead to next year when the House of Representatives seat, currently held by Republican Chris Gibson, will be up for grabs.
In January, fresh off a crushing victory over Democratic challenger Sean Eldridge, Gibson announced that he would give up the seat in 2017 to focus on a run for statewide office — likely the governor’s, but possibly the U.S. Senate — in 2018. Gibson’s planned departure raises the prospect of a rare event in New York politics: an open seat election in a highly competitive “purple” congressional district.
With the 2015 election in the can, the outlines of the 2016 congressional race are beginning to take shape. This week, Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R-Schoharie) became the third Republican to officially announce his intention to run for the seat. On the other side, all 11 county Democratic Committee chairs in the 19th have signed on to an effort to draft Ulster County Executive Mike Hein to carry the party’s banner next November.
Lopez, a five-term assemblyman who’s 102nd District covers all of Schoharie County and parts of five other counties in the 19th, announced Nov. 23 that he would run for Gibson’s seat. In his announcement, the Republican touted his familiarity with the district, his winning election record and his status as a regular guy with a working-class background. Lopez positioned himself as the outsider candidate in what’s turning into a crowded Republican field.
“I know I am not the establishment’s choice … not the candidate of power, prestige and privilege,” wrote Lopez. “I’m the hard-working everyday person.”
In his reference to “the establishment’s choice,” Lopez might have been thinking about Dutchess County’s Andrew Heaney. Lopez announced his candidacy fresh on the heels of the Millbrook businessman Andrew Heaney’s anointment last week as one of the GOP’s “Young Guns.” Heaney, a Yale-educated businessman who works in the energy field, has been raising money and gathering support since earlier this year. On Nov. 19 the National Republican Congressional Committee named Heaney one of 32 candidates nationwide who’d made the first cut for its “Young Guns” program. The program identifies promising GOP candidates and provides fundraising and organizational support for their campaigns. In a press release touting the program, NRCC officials noted that Heaney had raised more money than any New York congressional candidate, giving him a strong early advantage in the race.
Rounding out the Republican field is lobbyist, corporate attorney and former assemblyman John Faso of Columbia County. Faso, a Kinderhook resident, served eight terms in the state Assembly before leaving office in 2002. After an unsuccessful bid for state comptroller in 2002 and another unsuccessful bid for governor in 2006, Faso also served as Gibson’s political mentor and helped engineer his 2010 election to Congress. Faso announced in October that he would seek Gibson’s seat, running as a “right-of-center conservative Republican.”
Hein’s great, Dems write
While Republicans have three candidates jockeying for Gibson’s seat, no Democrat has formally jumped into the race yet. Rhinebeck’s Terry Gipson, bounced from the state Senate in 2014 after just one term, was heard on WAMC earlier this year expressing interest and Millbrook Assemblywoman Didi Barrett’s name has also been brought up as a potential candidate.
Ulster County Dem Chair Frank Cardinale said this week that his fellow party officials have long expressed interest in a Hein candidacy. Cardinale said he decided to wait until Hein wrapped up his successful campaign for a third term as county executive before approaching him about a congressional run. In the letter, Cardinale and his fellow county chairs pointed to Hein’s record on keeping taxes low, supporting small businesses and championing environmental issues as evidence that he’s the Democrat best positioned to win the House seat.
“After the election we decided to make it known to Mike that if he would run, it would be our best chance of getting the congressional district back, turning it blue,” said Cardinale.
Hein did not return calls seeking comment this week; when asked about any potential congressional plans, he’s consistently said he refuses to speculate about the future. Cardinale said that he had not spoken to Hein about a candidacy except to tell him to expect a letter from the county chairs. Cardinale said that he believed Hein’s chances of actually entering the race were “50-50 at best.”