On April 24, 2018, New York State had a special election in order to fill eleven legislative seats. The major focus of the special election was two key State Senate seats that could potentially change the power structure in the Senate.
To give a little history, in 2011, four Democratic Senators – Jeffrey Klein, Diane Savino, David Valesky and David Carlucci – broke away from their Caucus to form the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group that caucuses with the Senate Republicans, and named Senator Klein as its Leader. Over the next seven years, the IDC grew to eight members and have continued to caucus with the Republicans regardless of which party had the numerical majority of votes. On April 5, 2018, however, Governor Andrew Cuomo engineered a deal to bring the eight IDC members back into the mainstream Democratic Caucus. Senator Klein agreed to become the Deputy Leader of the Democratic Caucus while Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins remains as the Leader. With this reunion of the Democratic Caucus, the Democrats held 29 votes while the Republicans held 31.
Still, we must factor in Senator Simcha Felder, from Brooklyn, into the equation. Senator Felder is a Democrat but has been a member of the Republican Caucus from his election in 2012. Senator Felder has since announced that he will not upset the balance of power in the Senate and will remain with the GOP at least until the end of session in June. With Senator Felder recommitting to the GOP Caucus, they maintain a majority with 32 votes.
The Special Election saw what some describe as a Democratic Blue Wave in response to national politics. The two State Senate seats easily went to the Democrats. In what was supposed to be a close race, Assemblywoman Shelly Mayer easily defeated Rye Town Councilwoman Julie Killian for Senate District 27. Senator-Elect Mayer will replace George Latimer, who now serves as Westchester County Executive. The other key Senate race took place in the Bronx, where Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda easily won nearly 90% of the vote. With these recent wins, the Democratic Caucus now has 31 votes, not counting Senator Felder, who has not ruled switching in the future. If Senator Felder moves back to the Democratic Caucus, the Democrats would garner majority control of the Senate, and Senator Stewart-Cousins would become the Majority Leader of the Senate. As of now – through the remainder of the current session – Republican Senator John Flanagan maintains his position as the Majority Leader with Senator John Defransico as the Deputy Majority Leader.
When the legislative session wraps up in June, the real election starts when all 63 seats in the State Senate will be up for grabs. Traditionally, the Republicans pick up seats during off-year elections, but history flies out the window this year. With Republicans currently holding the Majority in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, along with a GOP President, we have a national Blue Wave in all the special elections, in which the Democratic base is more energized than the Republican. This is actually the normal trend when the opposing party is in control.
Now that the IDC is back with the traditional Democrats, this has created many more battleground seats throughout New York. I believe about eight seats will be competitive, and those seats will decide who controls the State Senate for the 2019 legislative session.
In the New York State Assembly, the Democrats already have commanding control of the House, holding a 108 to 42 lead over the GOP, and lead by Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie. Although nine seats were up for grabs during the Special Election, not much has changed. There is one race in Suffolk County worth mentioning: former Legislator Steve Stern turned a long held red seat blue in District 10, but that did not affect the commanding majority held by the Democrats in that House.
Our team at Gotham Government Relations and Communications is closely watching all the action in the New York State Legislature. Our job is to study every piece of legislation and the political implications from the work of our State Legislature. Every business, trade association, not-for-profit organization, and industry leader should have advocates to ensure that any legislation with unintended consequences does not pass under the radar without a real fight. At the same time, Gotham works proactively to create new legislation that needs to be introduced in order to correct problems. The only way to move your bills along is to have a team fighting for that legislation.
We are always ready, willing, and able to sit down with you and analyze the type of campaign that is needed to move the ball forward. We will keep you updated on this exciting fight for control of the New York State Senate and other interesting New York political updates.