Later yesterday afternoon, the Westchester County Democratic Committee sent out an email informing recipients that a “mini convention” would be called by Chairman Reggie Lafayette for the purpose of selecting a candidate to run for the yet-to-be-called special election to fill the seat of departing state Sen. George Latimer, who will become Westchester County executive on Jan. 1.

The mini convention, according to this email, will be held Jan. 9 at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. All committee members (also known as district leaders) from towns and cities in the 37th SD will be eligible to vote, selecting between the following five announced Democratic candidates:

People for Bernie co-founder Katherine Brezler, Bedford Supervisor Christopher Burdick, West Harrison resident Mark Jaffe, Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, and Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano.

The race for the district is key for the fragile unity deal between mainline Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference. It is one of two open seats in the Senate that Democrats hope to fill in order to work toward a governing majority in the chamber.

The email raised eyebrows in a number of corners, since, according to an informed Democratic source in the district, the mini convention date has been changed three times now. Initially, committee members were told to expect to gather on March 21. Next, they were told the event would in fact be held at some yet-undetermined date in February.

The fact that the date keeps moving up has led some to speculate that party leaders are trying to orchestrate proceedings to benefit a preferred candidate, perhaps Mayor (and former Assemblyman) Mike Spano, who was the last to formally announced his candidacy.

The more quickly the convention is called, the thought goes, the less time lesser known candidates will have to circulate and make their respective cases to the local committee members.

But in a telephone interview this afternoon, LaFayette scoffed at the idea that he has a favorite candidate, noting that since he isn’t a 37th SD resident, he won’t even get to vote on who will carry the party’s banner into the special election.

LaFayette insisted that he had changed the mini convention date for two reasons: One, because accommodating several hundred people – up to 700 he said, counting all committee members and “onlookers” – at this time of year on short notice is difficult; and two, because he suspects the governor will call the special election sooner rather than later, and he wants whoever the candidate is to be ready to hit the ground running.

“We realized something in reading the law,” LaFayette said. “When the governor sets a date for a special election, ten days after that, you have to have all your paperwork and filing of nominating petitions in. So we have to be ready to be up and running.”

The chairman noted that in 2012, the governor called a special election to fill numerous vacancies around the state – including, ironically, the race for the seat vacated by now-Mayor Spano, who was succeeded by now-Assemblywoman Mayer – in early January. The election was held in March.

Some sources close to the race, too, have noted that Spano is close to both Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein and the governor. Spano’s brother Nick was ousted in a closely watched race by the now-Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. The Yonkers mayor and the Democratic leader in the Senate have had an at-times frayed relationship, one source noted.

As part of the much-maligned state Senate peace process designed to reunite the chamber’s warring Democratic factions, which was floated by allies of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the special election to fill Latimer’s seat would not be held until after the April 1 budget deadline.

This angered liberal activists, which has been pressuring the governor to call a special ASAP because they don’t want to see the Republicans continue to control the Senate through what is shaping up to be a protracted budget battle.

LaFayette said he has no insight about when Cuomo will announce the 37th SD special election, and has received no heads up on the subject.

“If someone had given us a heads up, we would not be in the position we are in now,” the chairman said. “So we are saying that in 2012, he called it (in early January). So, we’re going with that he may call it on the 3rd, or so. If he calls it later than that then fine, we’re still good.”

LaFayette called critics who have suggested he’s trying to rig the convention process “ignorant,” adding:

“For each date, we got a complaint. What I’m trying to realize it’s either someone who doesn’t like the Spanos, or are trying to make trouble. (Mike Spano) just announced. I think (Mayer) was first one out…so you know, it is beyond me how these rumors get started. I don’t even know who has traction.”