Howard Dean tells a great story of a late-night call with Al Gore right after he had been knocked out of the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. Gore let him vent for a while at the rough treatment he had received, but eventually—when Howard asked angrily, “Tell me why I should be supporting this party?”—the former vice president said: “It’s not about you, Howard.” And, Howard always concludes this story, “Of course he was right. It’s about the country.”
If Gillibrand and Maloney square off, each would inevitably be saying tough things about the other until just a few weeks before the general election—very possibly opening the door for the Republican to walk right in.
So if you’re Carolyn Maloney, who has paid her dues nine times over—this is her ninth term representing New York’s 14th District—and who chairs the Joint Economic Committee, and has any number of other truly notable distinctions to her credit—you are likely steamed. Arguably (or, let’s be honest: inarguably, in your mind), YOU are the woman Governor David Paterson should have chosen to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. Not Caroline Kennedy and not, certainly, a freshman congresswoman.
Whether one agrees with that or not, let’s just take it as a given. (And let’s honor Carolyn Maloney for her service and talents.)
The fact is that, right or wrong, the nod went to Gillibrand, who, like Maloney, is also a remarkable talent, and that both President Barack Obama and New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, have endorsed her.
Here are the reasons it would be a disaster for Rep. Maloney to run to unseat Senator Gillibrand:
1. The primary fight could easily cost 25 million progressive dollars.
2. There would then be a primary fight for Maloney’s seat—by some estimates a five- or six- or seven-way race—which could cost $15 million more.
3. All this—$40 million—NOT to turn a red seat blue, but simply to decide which of two progressive Democratic women gets to be senator.
4. That same money could provide $2 million each to 20 tough congressional races where Democrats have a shot at picking up seats—check out Krystal Ball’s remarkable race in conservative Fredericksburg, Virginia, for example (and yes, that is her given name)—or where we risk losing seats we just picked up in 2008. Two million dollars goes a long way in a tight congressional race. Should we spend it 20 times over just to replace Senator Gillibrand with a different (terrific!) woman who would have 18 months less Senate seniority? And to lose the congresswoman’s clout in the House? And to install a junior senator from New York who would have 19 fewer years ahead of her (actuarially speaking, being 19 years older) to build seniority in service to New York?
And yet it’s worse than all that:
5. New York has a late primary. If Gillibrand and Maloney square off, each would inevitably be saying tough things about the other until just a few weeks before the general election—very possibly opening the door for the Republican to walk right in, turning a precious blue Senate seat red. So the net result could all too plausibly be: (a) the loss of the seat; (b) one fewer woman in the Senate (there are too few as it is); (c) the loss of a terrific, senior congresswoman.
Perhaps in a better economy, $40 million wouldn’t be so hard to come by. These days, however, it’s been my experience in asking Democrats for money that not a lot of us feel flush.
And so what I think the good congresswoman will do, after a little more well-earned time to assess the lay of the land, is what she has always done: put her country and her principles ahead of ego, stubbornness, or personal ambition. Just as Howard Dean did.
If only Ralph Nader had done the same.
Andrew Tobias is a Democratic fundraiser and the author of three New York Times best-sellers: Fire and Ice: The Charles Revson/Revlon Story , The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need , and The Invisible Bankers .