Gilman Mulls Party Switch

With his job on the chopping block, the senior Republican in New York's congressional delegation is considering a switch to the Democratic Party.

A spokesman for Rep. Benjamin Gilman said Tuesday that State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, broached the idea with the GOP lawmaker during a private meeting in Albany, N.Y., about congressional redistricting.

"He told the speaker it was a very interesting offer," Brian Walsh said of Gilman's reaction, declining to elaborate.

Silver said he told Gilman on Monday that if the congressman runs as a Democrat, "I would support him."

Gilman, the 79-year-old former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has represented a district just north of New York City since 1972. He is a moderate Republican.

The state Legislature must eliminate two of New York's 31 congressional seats because of slow population growth as reported by the 2000 Census. A deal may be voted on as early as Wednesday.

 The latest redistricting plan under consideration would put Gilman in a district with fellow GOP Rep. Sue Kelly, who is serving her fourth term. That new district would favor Kelly because it includes most of her current district.

A party switch by Gilman would, at the very least, force the GOP to spend heavily to defend Kelly at a time when Democrats are making a bid to take control of the House.

Republicans now hold a 222-211 advantage, with two independents. State legislative leaders have renewed efforts in the last week to devise new congressional district lines to avoid having a plan created by a court-appointed special master take effect.

Walsh said Gilman also is considering legal options to try to save his district.