Balance of Power Could Shift in NYS Senate

New York Republicans are holding on to their last statewide power-base by a thread. They control the State Senate, 31 seats to 29. If two move from the red column to the blue, the 40-year-old GOP majority will come to an end. Both sides are pouring millions of dollars into what’s become the costliest State Senate elections in New York history. WNYC’s Fred Mogul reports on one race in Queens that will be crucial to either shifting or maintaining Senate control.

REPORTER: The balance of power in the Senate will affect how the ever-shrinking state budget gets divvied up; how Congressional districts gets redrawn; and whether controversial issues like gay marriage, drug sentencing and abolishing the death penalty get voted on. But on a recent night in Queens, the focus was on nuts-and-bolts.

MALTESE: As far as Richmond Hil l High School - I have observed the 22 trailers. I have spoken to the Board of Education . . .

REPORTER: That's Serphin Maltese. The 76-year-old Republican has represented the 15th Senate District for 20 years. He and his opponent, City Councilman Joseph Addabo Jr., were debating the other night, at the invitation of the South Asian and West Indies Leadership Cabinet. Maltese is a former prosecutor and Korean War veteran. He was elected in 1988 on the Conservative ticket, later joined the Republicans and ran unopposed for years. His district traverses Queens, north-to-south, from the edge of JFK airport almost to LaGuardia. It contains neighborhoods like Richmond Hill, where the debate took place, with more than 60 percent immigrants, and Howard Beach, with fewer than 15. That's where Maltese was the other night, just before the debate. He was being honored at Roma View banquet hall as the Middle Village Man of the Year.

CANDELA: I've known him for 20 years. He's always been excellent for the community.

REPORTER: Sal Candela is Vice-Chairman of the Middle Village Chamber of Commerce.

CANDELA: We had a bar that was gonna open up on the avenue, a biker bar that was not desirable for a residential neighborhood. And as soon as we contacted him, within days, he personally called the state liquor authority and made sure the license never got issued. Just like that. The bar never happened.

REPORTER: Last week, just in time for election season, the Senate Majority Leader fast-tracked the redevelopment in his district of the struggling Aqueduct Raceway into a video slot casino. Maltese promises it will generate hundreds of jobs and billions of dollars for the state.

MALTESE: This 192 acres is a beautiful oasis in the middle of Queens County, and we were concerned it not become big box stores, parking lots, low-income housing.

REPORTER: Beneath an elevated A train stop a few miles from Aqueduct, Councilman Joseph Addabbo greets groggy, early-morning commuters.

AIDE, ADDABO: Good morning, meet Joe Addabo, running for Senate. Hi there. Vote on November 4th

REPORTER: Many ignore him. Some take a flier without looking up or pausing. And a handful are old friends.

COMMUTER: Joe, how you doin' kid, how are ya? -We're doing good.

REPORTER: The Ozone Park neighborhood is Addabbo's old stomping grounds.

ADDABBO: Some of these people have watched me grow up. Some of these people I've gone to school with. And some of these people I've seen them grow up, as they now go to work.

REPORTER: Addabbo is the 44-year-old son of Joseph Addabbo Sr., who represented the area in Congress for a quarter-century. The younger Addabbo in his seven years in the City Council has focused on neighborhood services but a kept a relatively low profile. One constituent, bodega-owner Jagdish Patel, credits Addabbo with getting to know him and his neighbors.

PATEL: He's a nice man. He's very friendly. He's nice. He helps everyone in the neighborhood. He's a good man.

REPORTER: At the debate in Richmond Hill, Addabbo and Maltese, two Italian-American men, squared off over who could better serve the immigrants in the audience from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Guyana and Trinidad.

MALTESE: Because of my seniority and the fact that I am vice chairman of the majority conference, I can get funding for this area. Almost all of you work in the businesses of your own and don't ask for any type of assistance, but I ask you, respectfully: tell me your needs! Tell me what you'd like to have.

ADDABO: That is an absolute outrage. When you've been in office 20 years, you should know the groups that need funding.

REPORTER: Maltese tried to make a case against single-party rule in Albany. He's one of a few GOP senators left in the whole city, and in his district, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1. On November 4th, he'll find out whether goodwill from his two decades in office and fear of a single-party takeover are enough to return him to the senate for two more years.