New York Governor Highlights the Dismal Record of Senate Appointments

Yesterday we wondered how the Blagojevich Affair would influence other politicians who need to fill vacant seats in the Senate or elsewhere. (BTW, the procedure for filling a vacant Senate seat varies state-by-state; here’s a related article.) We particularly wondered how New York Governor David Paterson would approach the task of replacing Hillary Clinton, now that the eyes of the world (though hopefully not the F.B.I.) are on him.

Interestingly, Azi Paybarah of the New York Observer put that very question to Paterson:

He said it made him “more resolved” to find someone based on “merit” and to pick someone who can win in 2010.

But then it gets really interesting. Paterson kept talking and displayed why he is fast gaining a reputation as a governor who’s not only forthright and smart, but refreshingly analytical:

Interestingly enough, I was reading that there have been, there have been, I think in the last century, over 80 times when governors have had to appoint senators. And since 1960, there have been 48. Of the 48, 10 have just decided to serve out the term and not run for election. Of the 38 that ran for election, only 18 won. So, less than half actually won. So, as I think about that, because of the precious nature of seniority in Washington, I’m hoping that a candidate that I select would win in 2010. Because what’s very key in the U.S. Senate, and what the U.S. senators that I’ve spoken to have apprised me, is that seniority is very important.

I believe the going rate for re-election of sitting U.S. senators is about 90 percent. So, if Paterson’s reading of history is correct, a less-than-50 percent re-election rate for this subset of incumbents would seem to be a pretty good indication that they were pretty unimpressive. By announcing this fact, Paterson may have just made his own task a bit harder, but he sounds wise enough to handle it.

(Hat tip: Etan Bednarsh)

Matthew Sachs

It sounds like Paterson may have read FiveThirtyEight's analysis:

IL Guy

As an Illinois residents, I just hope to get a replacement half as qualified as NY's.


Nate Silver over at has done a fascinating analysis of just this subject. It's worth a read. It's at


Five thirty has this in somewhat better detail...


What's the over/under of 538 replies?


I haven't read the fivethirtyeight analysis yet, but could this just be due to the fact that an appointed senator has not yet proven his or her electability to the senate seat, as opposed to the subset of already elected senators?

It seems that winning a public senate vote would be the greatest indicator of electability.


Hey, did anyone mention 538? I hear they might have some sort of analysis related to this. If only someone would comment several times and let me know.


I like patterson. please don't let him be crooked.

also = 538


Is anyone bothered by the fact that he says he is now "more reserved" to pick someone based on merit? Shouldn't he have been obligated to choose someone based on merit? And if not obligated, at least morally or ethically bound to choose someone who is qualified for the job? That doesn't jump out as particularly "smart" to me...


I should write an analysis of this a several hours ago.

King Politics

BSK, I think Patterson was just saying it's absolutely critical to pick someone based on merit - not that he wouldn't have considered merit all along. But let's face it, Patterson is a partisan too. You've got to represent the party well if you're him.


All the commentary about how imporant seniority is in the Senate speak to the desperate need for term limits for senators.

When the cost of throwing out a tenured senator becomes so high that convicted felons are re-elected (Alaska), the system is not serving the people as well as it could.



Grant: the over/under on number of FiveThirtyEight replies is... 538.


The fact that the re-election rate of governor appointed senators is lower than the general re-election rate of incumbent senators could also be explained that sometimes Democratic Governors chose a successor to a Republican or vice a versa.


What's the going price of a NY Senate seat anyway?


@15 I'm not sure what it is now, but I think about a year ago, it was a specified number of evenings in a Washington hotel room with a high-priced escort.


Perhaps Governors are no good at appointing Senators? Or the voting public is no good at electing good ones? This would indicate to me that there is some discrepancy between the qualifications an appointed Senator is chosen based upon and the qualifications an elected Senator is based upon. Hard to say if anyone is "right" (if anyone is at all) but clearly there is a disconnect.


What's the going rate for re-election of sitting Governor?


Slightly different than the point about proving your electability...

What's the reelection rate for first term senators? Once they've been re-elected once, then they're probably set unless they really screw up. The first reeelection is when people get to decide based on actual time in office, rather than potential.


This doesn't necessarily show that he's analytical (as pointed out, someone else did the analyzing).

It does show that he pulls information from wide enough sources to include blogs; a contrast to some administrations. And that he's got a fantastic memory for numbers. Could you reel off those stats hours after reading the article?

From :
Being legally blind, Governor Paterson can't read speeches off a teleprompter. So how does he do it? Memorization! Typically, an aide will record the speech and the governor will listen to it several times, committing it to memory. "It's like a high wire," the governor says. "You trip, there's no net."

The "Batphone"
The life of a governor is full of briefing books, position papers and emails. In place of these, each evening Governor Paterson's aides record briefings, memos and newspaper articles using a voice message system the governor accesses via the Batphone, a special phone line designated for this purpose, providing the governor with several hours of listening in preparation for the next day.