Control of NY State Senate Could Come Down to the Wire

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This election will determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the State Senate in the next term, and it could come down to just a few hundred votes in a small number of key Senate contests. Both sides are hopeful that they will be victorious.

The State Senate has been run by Republicans for much of the past several decades, but in recent years the GOP has hung on by a shrinking margin.

In 2008, the last presidential election year, Democrats took the majority by just one seat. In 2010, Republicans regained control, also by a one vote margin.

Senator Tom Libous, of Binghamton, is head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. Libous is confident that the GOP will stay on top on November 6.

“I believe that we’ll have 34 seats,” said Libous. “And there’s a possibility for more.”

Thirty-two seats are needed for either party to hold the majority.

Republicans have a money advantage over the Democrats, with access to an estimated $18 million for campaigns, in comparison to the Democrats’ just over $3 million.  And the GOP was able to draw new Senate district lines that favor Republicans, including the creation of a 63rd Senate seat, which attempts to capture Republican voter pockets in the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys.

But Senator Michael Gianaris, of Queens, who runs the Democrats’ election efforts, says people shouldn’t underestimate the power of a blue state like New York to swing the Senate to the Democrats. He says traditionally, more Democrats than Republicans come out to vote in presidential election years in New York. Though he concedes the GOP has some distinct advantages.

“Despite all of that, we’re in a position to regain the majority,” Gianaris said, “which is a testament to the strength of our candidates, the strength of our campaigns, and just how Democratic the state really is.”

It was Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York’s most powerful and popular Democrat, who helped the Senate Republicans enact into law the new district lines drawn to the GOP’s advantage. Cuomo signed off on the legislature’s new lines designed by the Senate GOP and Majority Party Democrats in the Assembly last March.  Democrats in the Senate were so angry that they boycotted voting on the redistricting plan, as well as the governor’s bill to create a new pension tier for public workers, in an all-night session in mid-March.  Relations between Senate Democrats and the Democratic governor have been said to be tense ever since.

Cuomo prides himself on his bipartisan relationship with the Senate GOP, and credits them for helping pass a property tax cap, as well as a law to allow same sex marriage.

Senator Libous says the Democratic governor and Republican Senate have had an excellent working relationship that has benefited both.

“We’re very proud of it, and I think the governor is, too,” Libous said. “We’re going to use our success, and talk about it, because that’s important in keeping our conference in the majority, and in increasing seats.”

Cuomo has publicly remained neutral in his comments about party control of the Senate.

“I don’t want to tell a person in any district ‘You should elect a Democrat’ or ‘You should elect a Republican,’” Cuomo said. “Party labels can often be misleading.”

Cuomo has not objected to Senate Republicans using pictures of themselves with the governor in campaign mailings. And he’s endorsed one GOP Senator so far, Senator Stephen Saland of the Hudson Valley, who barely beat back a primary challenge after Saland provided one of several swing votes to enact same sex marriage. In addition, the Cuomo is backing two Senate Democrats. David Carlucci, also of the Hudson valley, is not part of the Senate Democratic Conference, but is in a breakaway group of four Democrats in the Independent Democratic Conference, which often sides with the GOP.

Cuomo has endorsed one member of the Senate Democratic conference, Senator Joseph Addabbo of Queens, who also provided a needed yes vote on gay marriage, and who is locked in a tight race with Republican Eric Ulrich. 

“This is going to be close no matter how you cut it,” Gianaris said.

And he predicts that whichever side, Democrat or Republican, wins, they will hold the Majority in the Senate by as little as one or two seats.