Although most of the attention last night was rightfully placed on the presidential race, a number of important state legislative campaigns were also waged, which, depending on how they turn out, could potentially have a significant impact on the legislation and policies that emerge out of Albany in the coming years. Notably, control of the New York State Senate hangs in the balance, and if Democrats win there, the party would control the trifecta of the state government as they already have an overwhelmingly majority in the State Assembly and a similarly aligned governor.
With one temporary exception, the senate has been continuously controlled by the GOP in recent years. Despite a large fundraising edge and an aggressive gerrymander which appeared to have locked in a Republican majority for the immediate future, a number of surprisingly strong Democratic victories pushed back against the conventional wisdom that they had no chance at reversing their fortunes this year,
Notably, the Republicans had specifically targeted two Democrats for elimination, Queens’ Joe Addabbo and Westchester’s Suzi Oppenheimer, by refashioning their district boundaries to include far more Republican turf than in 2010. However, Mr. Addabbo fended off a challenge GOP Councilman Eric Ulrich, and, thanks to Ms. Oppenheimer’s retirement and the strong candidacy of Democratic Assemblyman George Latimer, Democrats managed to protect both seats.
Elsewhere in the state, Democrat Ted O’Brien successfully claimed a Rochester seat previously held by Republican Jim Alesi. Mr. Alesi, facing a likely primary challenge after voting in favor of gay marriage in 2011, opted to not run for reelection. Another pro-gay marriage Republican senator, Poughkeepsie’s Steve Saland, survived a primary challenge only to have his opponent run against him on the Conservative line in the general election, allowing Democrat Terry Gipson squeak by in a 43%-to-42% plurality surprise win. This was despite Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo providing a cross-party endorsement to Mr. Saland.
(With Republican Roy McDonald losing a primary challenge of his own, only one of the four Republican votes for same sex marriage will be in the State Senate next year, Buffalo’s Mark Grisanti.)
And in the closest race of all, Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk has a razor-thin 140-vote margin over Republican Assemblyman George Amedore, whom a new State Senate seat was drawn for in the Albany suburbs.
Additionally, Simcha Felder, who ran on the Democratic and Conservative Party lines against GOP incumbent David Storobin, pulled off a win in a heavily Orthodox Jewish seat in Brooklyn. Mr. Felder had sent signals he would prefer to caucus with a Republican majority, but with stronger-than-expected Democratic performances elsewhere, it’s possible the Democrats will be able to cut a deal to keep him on their side.
The Democratic conference is particularly prone to infighting, however, and there is an outstanding issue that must be resolved even if Ms. Tkaczyk holds onto her win and Mr. Felder comes around: the four Democratic senators who broke away from the party and stopped caucusing with them last year. Protesting the leadership of Minority Leader John Sampson, the quartet formed a breakaway, Republican-friendly “Independent Democratic Conference” in 2011. If they cannot be brought back into the fold, Republicans would still be able to cling to a 30-29-4 majority.
Democrats nevertheless declared victory last night, sending out a message to their supporters entitled, “Dems take back the Senate!”
“New Yorkers elected a Democratic majority in the State Senate,” Parkside Group’s Evan Stavisky, whose firm served as the principle consultants for the Senate Democrats, told Politicker this morning. “In a crowded election year with competitive races across the state, and up and down the ballot, the challenge is to maximize your resources and make every dollar count.”
For their part, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans told The New York Times, “We are confident that once all the votes are in, we will retain our majority.”