One unresolved question about Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney's potential run for attorney general is whether he could stay in his congressional re-election race until after the Sept. 13 Democratic primary for attorney general.

Maloney, who's slated to run for a fourth term in Congress this November, is one of a slew of Democrats weighing an unexpected opening in statewide office after Attorney General Eric Schneiderman abruptly resigned last week over allegations that he physically abused his former girlfriends.

Maloney, who ran for attorney general in a Democratic primary in 2006, and the other potential candidates must decide whether to enter the race before the state Democratic Committee meets in Long Island next week to anoint preferred candidates.

Maloney filed petitions in April to run on four ballot lines for his House seat, and is set to compete against Republican Orange County Legislator Jim O'Donnell.

What is unclear is whether Maloney, if he decides to run instead for attorney general, would have to exit the congressional race after the convention, or only if he wins the primary almost four months later.

The latter would be a safe hedge for Maloney, who would be guaranteed to run for one office or the other in November.

But it also would leave Democrats unsure of their candidate for New York's 18th Congressional District until less than two months before the Nov. 6 general election.

Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Long Island Democrat and former prosecutor who narrowly lost to Schneiderman in a primary for attorney general in 2010, also considered competing to replace him, but announced on Tuesday that she can't because state law prohibits candidates "from seeking two offices simultaneously."

Maloney, by contrast, has concluded he can run for attorney general, although it's unclear when he believes he would have to decline his congressional petitions.

John Conklin, a state Board of Elections spokesman, said last week that Maloney could do so after the Democratic convention if he wins the nomination for attorney general.

But the convention on Wednesday and Thursday will determine only which candidates win enough delegate support to appear on the Sept. 13 primary ballot without petitioning, not the party's nominee for attorney general.

James Walsh, a Republican election attorney from Saratoga County, said Thursday that his reading of state election law is that Maloney would remain a congressional candidate until he wins the state primary in September, if that were to occur.

But he said Maloney could still submit a "declination" of his congressional petitions after the convention, and it would then be up to the state election commissioners to decide whether to accept that declination and his new designation to run for attorney general.

Ultimately, though, the final arbiter would likely be a judge, Walsh said.

cmckenna@th-record.com