Expressing impatience with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a judge said Tuesday he'll set a date for a special election to replace convicted former U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm unless Cuomo does so by noon Friday.
"The right to representation in government is the central pillar of democracy in this country. Unjustified delay in filling a vacancy cannot be countenanced," wrote U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein in Brooklyn in a written decision in response to a lawsuit brought by voters.
Weinstein said the Republican congressman from Staten Island's resignation Jan. 5 left residents in a 66-square-mile area with a population of 750,000 people "bereft of an advocate to help them navigate the morass of government bureaucracy," including the ability to have a voice as Congress decides whether to authorize an escalation of the use of the military against terrorists.
"They have lost their ability to participate not only in the making of the nation's policies at large, but in those that affect their daily lives," the judge said, noting that a vote over an extended war against terrorism is an issue in which "men and women of the district will risk death."
After stepping down, Grimm pleaded guilty to tax evasion. He has yet to be sentenced.
Attorneys for Cuomo, a Democrat, told Weinstein that the governor has discretion to delay a special election until the general election in November.
In a statement issued after Weinstein ruled, Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said the governor will announce the date for a special election shortly, but did not promise it would occur before the judge conducts a hearing Friday.
She said the decision will be "consistent with our constitutional obligation and in a manner that balances both the economic impact of the election as well as the need for fair representation."
Weinstein said he planned to set a date for a special election "as promptly as the law will allow" unless Cuomo sets his own date or justifies further delay through his lawyers in court Friday.
"Exercising that power of a federal judge under Article III of the United States Constitution would cause this court great regret in view of its respect for the sovereign State of New York and its government," the judge wrote. "Prompt action by the governor would permit maintaining the normal relationship of comity between federal and state officials."
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