Now that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has accepted President-elect Obama’s offer to become his secretary of state, Gov. David Paterson has to appoint Clinton’s successor in the Senate. Clinton’s office has indicated that the senator will remain in office through her confirmation as secretary of state, which generally takes place the same day as the presidential inauguration. Paterson has the ability to appoint himself to the soon-to-be vacant position, but has said he will not do that.

“In order to appoint the best possible candidate to replace Senator Clinton, I am consulting with a wide variety of individuals from all across New York State. I expect to announce Senator Clinton’s replacement when the position becomes officially vacant,” said Paterson in a statement.

The governor’s office has been tight-lipped about the short list of possible replacements, but a few names have been consistently mentioned in news reports. Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and perhaps most buzz-worthy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have all been speculated as short-list contenders. The Triborough Bridge was just recently renamed in honor of Kennedy’s late father. Kennedy, along with his cousin Caroline Kennedy and uncle Senator Ted Kennedy ardently campaigned for Obama, noting that Obama’s work is in the vein of their family’s legacy. RFK was once a New York senator,but his son has said he’s not interested in filling his father’s former seat. Even former president Bill Clinton’s name had been mentioned as a possible successor for his wife,but his office categorically denied that rumor. One thing all of those possible short-listers have in common is that they are all white men. Before Obama stepped down from his Senate position, he was the sole African-American senator in the current session and only the fifth African-American senator in U.S. history. Though Paterson will be filling Clinton’s vacant seat and not Obama’s, the importance of diversity is not lost on Paterson, New York’s first Black governor. There are currently 16 women (all white) in the 100-member U.S. Senate. That number will rise to 17 when Jeanne Shaheen is sworn in as New Hampshire’s junior senator. A Black person, a Latino, a person from upstate, a person from downstate, a woman: these have all been demographic and geographic suggestions from people seeking to advise the governor’s decision. U.S. Representative Nita Lowey, a powerful figure in the House, was thought to be a short-lister as a Clinton replacement, but has placed herself out of the running, stating that she would be more effective staying put in the House. She is now advising Paterson on whom to select for the position.

Byron Brown, Buffalo’s current mayor and the first African-American to fill the job, has consistently been suggested as a possible Paterson pick. “I’m honored that my name has even been mentioned. Whatever decision is made, I trust Governor Paterson’s judgment. He will study this matter closely and be thorough. The U.S. Senate is an opportunity to serve not just the city, but the state and the entire nation. If Paterson expressed interest in me serving in the Senate, I would definitely be interested in pursuing that option,” said Brown, who is a New York City native (Hollis, Queens) and former New York state legislator. Brown has been at the helm of Buffalo’s tremendous economic turnaround (Business Week recently named it among the top 20 U.S. cities to ride out the recession) and marked crime reductions have taken place under his watch.

Paterson has assembled a seven-member selection team that includes Lowey, Sen. Chuck Schumer, first lady Michelle Paige Paterson, Cong. Charles Rangel, Gregory Meeks and two of Paterson’s top aides, Bill Cunningham and Charlotte Hitchcock.

Whoever Paterson appoints will serve until Jan. 3, 2011. On that date, the winner of a special election in November of 2010 will take office.