Voters on Long island will soon pick a replacement for a convicted former top lawmaker in a contest that could help give Democrats complete control over New York state government.
Democrat Todd Kaminsky faces Republican Chris McGrath in the April 19 State Senate election for the seat long held by ex-Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican convicted last year of using his position to obtain payments and jobs for his son.
The Senate now has 31 Democrats and 31 Republicans — though the Republicans lead the chamber because of a pact with five breakaway Democrats and a sixth who caucuses with the GOP. But a Democratic victory on Long Island would give the Democrats the outright majority, potentially destabilizing the GOP’s grip on power.
With every Senate seat up for election this fall, both parties are seizing on the Long Island race as a pivotal skirmish ahead of the fall campaigns.
McGrath, an attorney and former president of the local bar association, said he’s counting on voters wanting a Republican-led Senate as a necessary balance to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Democratic majority in the state Assembly. He said Democrats, in particular ones from New York City, were a failure when they briefly held the Senate majority several years ago.
“In 2009 and 2010, when the New York City politicians were in charge, they increased taxes by $14 billion and left us with a $10 billion deficit,” McGrath said. “If I lose this race, the same exact thing is going to happen.”
Kaminsky is a state Assemblyman and a former prosecutor who is running on an anti-corruption platform. He said voters are fed up with a chronic ethics problem that has seen more than 30 lawmakers leave office facing criminal charges or ethics allegations. Skelos was convicted shortly after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, was himself found guilty of corruption. Silver’s old seat is also up for election on April 19.
In a sign of the race’s wider implications, earlier this week Kaminsky picked up the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton.
Should the Democrats win the seat, it’s unlikely to lead to immediate turmoil in the Senate. The five-member Independent Democratic Conference, which broke with the mainline party to give Senate control to the GOP, is unlikely to return to the fold before the fall elections. And Sen. Simcha Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans, has said he plans to continue that practice no matter who wins.
Nonetheless, a win on Long Island would give the Democrats a majority heading into the fall elections, when they plan to target several battleground districts.
Three other legislative races will be decided April 19, including one in the Manhattan Assembly district that had been represented by Silver. The four candidates in that race are Democrat Alice Cancel, Republican Lester Chang, Yuh-Line Niou on the Working Families Party line and Green Party candidate Dennis Levy.
The outcome of the race on Long Island could be decided not by voters’ disgust with corruption or their thoughts about partisan control of the Senate, however, but by presidential politics, according to Lawrence Levy, executive dean at Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies. The special election comes on the same day as the state’s presidential primary.
If Republicans are more fired up to vote in their primary than Democrats, McGrath would get an automatic advantage, Levy said.
“The attention to the presidential primaries is so overwhelming that there is nothing that Kaminsky or McGrath can do to bring out voters to make a difference,” he said.