Control of New York Senate Still Unresolved

It could be weeks, if not months before its known which party controls the State Senate. Democrats, who are trailing in two of three disputed races, have requested a detailed recount in districts in Buffalo and on Long Island.

The three races that are the closest are in Buffalo, where Democrat Antoine Thompson is currently behind GOP challenger Mark Grisanti, and on Long Island, where incumbent Democrat Craig Johnson is trailing Republican Jack Martins. In Westchester, Democratic Senator Suzi Oppenheimer is ahead of GOP candidate Bob Cohen. Ballots are still not all counted.   

If the numbers hold, then Republicans would resume control of the Senate with a narrow 32- 30 majority. Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos says he’s confident that will happen.

“I’d like it to be over with,” said Skelos of the recount. “But I’m certainly not nervous about it”.

But Democrats in the Senate say not so fast. They have requested a complete recount in the Buffalo and Long Island districts, including absentee and emergency ballots cast in instances of machine error. They will face weeks, if not months, of court battles as lawyers for both sides argue the cases. Prior Senate recounts in recent years have lasted well into the New Year. That could mean that the next legislative session could begin without any clear idea of which party is in charge of the Senate. Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson says the recount will take as long as it needs to, to make sure every single ballot is fairly counted.

“You can’t put a time frame on democracy or the democratic process,” said Sampson. “We want to make sure that there’s a complete and fair counting of all ballots, and I think that’s what the people of the state of New York deserve.”

Senator Skelos says Democrats are stalling. He says while Republicans, too, want every vote counted, the process may be “strung out unnecessarily.” And he says the paralysis could hamper the new Governor Andrew Cuomo’s agenda, which includes resolving a $9 billion budget gap.

“This is not going to be good for Governor-elect Cuomo, who is trying to hit the road running and accomplish a lot of positive things starting January 1,” said Skelos.

Both Senators Skelos and Sampson have talked with Cuomo, and pledge to work with the new governor. Both party leaders say they agree with his objectives to hold the line on new taxes and spending.

Senator Sampson says while he’d focused on the fate of the three members of his Democratic conference locked in the too-close-too-call races, he has not been idle on state issues. He says he’s already getting a jump start on how to fix the latest budget crisis, saying lawmakers have to be “lean and mean”, without gutting essential services.

“We need to deal with it right now,” said Sampson.

It is possible that both Senate leaders are half right about the ballot count, and that one of the two Democrats furthest behind, will eventually win back their seat. In that case, the Senate would be split evenly, with 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats.  Governor-elect Cuomo has said, in that case he’d use Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy to break any tie over leadership appointments. But Republicans say they don’t think the Lieutenant Governor has the power to cast votes on anything other than simple procedural matters.