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3/28/2015 9:15 am  #1

When Reid Closes a Door

God opens a window.

As Reid Exits, Schumer Sees Door Opening

WASHINGTON — Around 8 p.m. Thursday, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, called Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York into his office with news that would stun Washington the next morning: Mr. Reid planned to retire at the end of his term.

Mr. Reid’s decision to contact Mr. Schumer first, before even President Obama, was another powerful reminder of what Senate Democrats have long known: Mr. Schumer — the flip-phone using, rumpled, relentless son of a Brooklyn exterminator — is the presumptive front-runner to lead the Senate Democrats when Mr. Reid is gone.

In that moment, Mr. Schumer’s possibilities finally caught up with his ambition.

Just hours after Mr. Reid announced his retirement, throwing the future of his caucus into flux, at least one thing was clear: The Democratic leader post that Mr. Schumer has long coveted is his to lose.

Mr. Reid, demonstrating the steely will with which he has ruled his conference, worked aggressively to anoint Mr. Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat, as his successor shortly after beginning to tell people that he would not seek re-election, effectively edging out Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat. Mr. Durbin later said that he, too, would back Mr. Schumer.

“He will be elected to replace me in 22 months,” Mr. Reid told Nevada Public Radio. “I think one reason that will happen is because I want him to be my replacement.”

Mr. Schumer spent most of the day calling lawmakers to lock down their support for his leadership bid, which he officially announced Friday afternoon, saying in statement, “I am honored and humbled to have the support of so many of my colleagues and look forward to our Senate Democratic caucus continuing to fight for the middle class.”

After more than three decades in Congress, Mr. Schumer, 64, has a reputation nationally as an institutional presence in the baroque Senate chamber and the green rooms of the Sunday talk shows. But his potential ascent to the top Democratic post also represents a boon for New York, where Mr. Schumer cut his teeth with his rapacious attention to local issues, one Sunday morning news conference at a time.

New York has never produced a leader of the Senate, and it has been more than a century since a New Yorker was speaker of the House.

“New York is very fortunate that we will have someone with his abilities and talents to help our state,” said former Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, a Republican whom Mr. Schumer unseated in a contentious 1998 battle, but who now describes him as “a tiger” on Capitol Hill. “He will do exactly that — use that power and that clout.”

Unlike the frequently endangered Mr. Reid — and the previous Democratic Senate leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota — Mr. Schumer, who was first elected to the House in 1980, has proved seemingly unbeatable on his home turf. He has not faced a competitive campaign since his first election to the Senate, as he has kept the state’s Democratic community united around him.

That same indefatigable relationship building has also helped him in the Senate. Mr. Durbin and Mr. Schumer, who were once longtime roommates in Washington, have jockeyed for years behind the scenes, at times tensely, over who would replace Mr. Reid. Mr. Durbin plans to run again for the No. 2 position, and has Mr. Reid’s endorsement.

Mr. Schumer, a master tactician and inveterate deal maker, ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2006, when Democrats retook control of the Senate, and again in 2008, when they increased their majority. Mr. Schumer also earned the respect and trust of more moderate Democrats, who view him as someone eager to get things done and often call him when they have a concern or problem.

Shortly after the 2014 midterm elections, when Democrats lost their majority, some Democrats who had chafed under Mr. Reid’s leadership urged Mr. Schumer to challenge Mr. Reid for minority leader. But Mr. Schumer quickly quashed the plan, out of “loyalty and friendship” to Mr. Reid, said someone close to Mr. Schumer, speaking anonymously to discuss a sensitive topic.

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the No. 4 Democrat, is also interested in remaining in her party’s leadership, though she is not actively campaigning for a specific post.

While some progressive groups called for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to consider running, Democrats have mentioned Ms. Murray as the most likely senator to pose a possible challenge for Mr. Schumer. She ran the party’s Senate Campaign Committee in 2012, is well liked and respected by her colleagues, and has a natural base of support among her party’s 14 female members.

Though the official vote is nearly two years away, after the 2016 elections, the Democratic leadership was eager for a smooth transition, and at least a tacit understanding of who will replace Mr. Reid.

In New York, where Mr. Schumer’s prowess as a retail politician is often on display, his possible elevation was cause for instant celebration.

“I don’t know when the last time was when we had someone in such a position,” said Representative Joseph Crowley of Queens, adding, “He’s going to be at the head of the table, and I think that’s something that we haven’t necessarily had.”

In contrast with other prominent New York officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, Mr. Schumer has never become a divisive figure, focusing insistently on the state’s economic interests and local concerns, rather than on ideological crusades.

Mr. Crowley said Mr. Schumer has attended nearly every meeting of the state’s delegation, both in Washington and back home. When Mr. Crowley sought a House leadership post in 2012, he said he sought advice from Mr. Schumer, who helped rally the delegation behind him.

Mr. Schumer has continued to work the state’s circuit of local parades and association dinners even as he has climbed the ranks of national leadership, making frequent visits to upstate cities, including Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo.

“When I get together with him, I can get through a list of 10 issues in 45 seconds,” said Mayor Stephanie A. Miner of Syracuse. “Between talking fast and talking on two or three flip-phones at any one time, he’s always extraordinarily responsive.”

New York City politicians called Mr. Schumer an omnipresent force, regularly seen riding his bike around the city and showing up at swearing-in ceremonies for all manner of state and local officeholders.

“He’s everywhere in the state and has been for a long time now,” said State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, a former aide to Mr. Schumer.

Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, said he encountered Mr. Schumer last week at a Lunar New Year event, where the senator received an omen of good luck: In a traditional ceremony, featuring costumed dancers dressed as lions, scattering vegetables in the crowd, a piece of lettuce landed on New York’s senior senator.

“When he caught a piece, he said: ‘I guess I have good fortune coming my way,’ ” Mr. Adams recalled. “He should thank that lion.”

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

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