DN: NYS Dems, GOP In Bitter Fight For Control Of The NYS Senate

Dems, GOP In Bitter Fight For Control Of The NYS Senate
By Ken Lovett NY Daily News  November 5, 2018 

ALBANY — With the Democrats likely to sweep the elections for statewide office on Tuesday, the key battle will be for control of the state Senate.

Republicans are fighting to keep control of the Senate, the last bastion of power for the GOP in heavily blue New York. 

The Republicans have controlled the chamber—except for a brief and chaotic period in 2009-10—for decades.

But this year, if the Democrats pick up a net of just one seat, they will take over the Senate and control both houses of the Legislature and likely the governor’s mansion, the offices of attorney general and controller, and both U.S. Senate seats.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) said a split Legislature is actually beneficial for the state. The Senate GOP, he said, would push for more tax cuts, making the state more affordable, “and ensuring every region gets its fair share.”\

“People really do want the checks and balances and the accountability our majority provides,” Flanagan said.

The Republicans have argued the last time the Democrats were in charge of the chamber they raised taxes and fees by $14 billion, though the Democrats say they are virtually an entirely different conference since then.

For Democrats, capturing the majority would open the door to a host of progressive legislation like the strengthening of the state’s abortion laws, tougher gun laws, voter and other ethics reforms, and passage of a Child Victims Act making it easier for child sex abuse survivors to seek justice as adults.

“There are a host of important progressive priorities that have been bottled up due to the Republican controlled Senate that now will finally see the light of day,” said Sen. Michael Gianaris, the Queens Democrat heading his conference’s campaign committee.

It would also prove a historic win as Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, of Yonkers, would become the first woman to head a state legislative majority conference in New York history.

Traditionally, non-presidential election years have benefitted the Senate Republicans. But in the era of President Trump, 2018 is anything but traditional.

If the blue wave that some predict hits New York, it could spell doom for the GOP, both sides say.

But if fired up new and young Democrats don’t channel their anger by going to the polls, even some Democratic operatives envision a scenario where the Republicans can hold on to its razor-thin one-seat majority that currently exists only because Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder chooses to caucus with the GOP.

The Democrats not surprisingly have tried to tie Republican candidates to President Trump, who remains highly unpopular in his home state. The Republicans, meanwhile, have used Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio as bogeymen against Democrats in the suburbs and upstate to warn against one-party rule they say will be dominated by New York City interests.

The key battles will be fought on Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and in the Syracuse area.

The top tier races pit incumbent veteran Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Nassau County) versus Democrat Jim Gaughran; Democrat and current state Assemblyman James Skoufis against Republican Tom Basile for an Orange County seat being vacated by long-time Republican Sen. William Larkin; and Republican Onondaga County Controller Robert Antonacci against Democrat John Mannion for a seat that for decades belonged to Senate Republican Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, who is retiring.

Another key race—and the only one where Republicans are playing offense rather than trying to protect one of their own incumbents—pits Sen. John Brooks (D-Nassau County) against Republican challenger Jeff Pravato, the Massapequa Park mayor for a seat that until 2016 had historically been Republican.

Also possibly in play are seats currently belong to long-time Sen. Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican being challenged by Democrat Andrew Gounardes; and Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Nassau County) who is facing Democrat Anna Kaplan.

In Suffolk County, Republican Assemblyman Dean Murray is squaring off in what both sides say could be a tight race against Democrat Monica Martinez for a seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Tom Crocci.

Upstate, Democrats also believe they have a shot at winning a race between Democrat Aaron Gladd and Republican Daphne Jordan that is being vacated by Sen. Kathy Marchione (R-Saratoga County).

“If the (blue) wave is big enough, another two or three seats could come into play,” Gianaris said.

Further complicating matters for the Republicans is the dissolution of a group of eight breakaway Democrats who had been aligned iwth the GOP in a leadership coalition. The group went back to the mainline Democrats in April and six of the eight were ousted in the subsequent September Democratic primaries.

"With no (Independent Democratic Conference), there’s no question about what happens after Tuesday,” Gianaris said, meaning that the parties will no where they stand—unless, of course, some races are too close to call.

That could leave both sides in limbo for weeks, which has happened before.

With the stakes high, it’s not surprising both sides are pouring millions of dollars into the key races.

The Senate Republicans’ main campaign committee between mid July and Oct. 27 spent $5.62 million while the Democrats Senate Democratic Committee spent $3.7 million during the same period, records show. Both have continued to spend big since then, with Gianaris saying the Dems having put another $1.8 million into the races, for a record total of $5.5 million.

At the same time, various Super PACs, which by law can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money but cannot coordinate with any campaigns, have dumped more than $8 million into the Senate races.

But unlike in years past, where Super PACs were generally split down the middle, much of the spending this year—including millions of dollars from the a PAC created by the state teachers union—has benefited the Democrats.

Charter school supporters and the real estate industry, which in past years spent millions of their own to help Senate Republican candidates, have stayed on the sidelines this year.

Also helping the Senate Democrats is Gov. Cuomo, who in his own reelection year has publicly made flipping the state Senate one of his priorities. Cuomo, who in the past has been accused of not doing enough to help his own party win control of the Senate, has helped Democratic candidates raise money, has appeared at rallies.

Not surprisingly, both sides are expressing confidence they will come out on top on Tuesday.

“We’re optimistic,” Gianaris said. "The field is in our favor. The U.S. Senate is challenging for Democrats because so many Democratic seats are at risk. Here it’s the opposite. We have one Democratic seat at risk and 10 Republican seats we’re trying to flip.”

Said Flanagan: “We’re in a strong position to win, and I’m confident we’re going to do it.”


Just One Seat: The High-Octane Fight to Flip New York’s Senate
By Vivian Wang  November 5, 2018

Democrats are one seat away from retaking the State Senate, a shake-up that could have huge implications for New York’s political and economic future.

There is just one day left until an election that could decide New York’s future on Universal health care, rent regulation, charter schools, bail reform and more.

No, it’s not the race for the United States Senate or House of Representatives. It’s the contest happening further down the ballot, for the State Senate.

Contrary to the popular image of New York as an impenetrable wall of blue, Republicans have controlled the State Senate virtually uninterrupted for decades, frustrating attempts by progressives to pass a long wish list of legislation.

But if Democrats flip just one seat, they can change that.

The stakes have rarely been higher, according to both parties’ rhetoric. Democrats say they need the blue wave to help them make Albany a bulwark against Washington and President Trump. Republicans say they need to fend off one-party rule in an increasingly liberal state, before conservative and upstate voters are forgotten forever.

In the last frenzied, money-soaked days before Tuesday’s election, here is where things stand.

Following The Money To 4 Races
Campaign finance filings give a pretty clear indication of which districts to watch. 

Eight candidates in four districts have been spending lavishly this year, with their campaigns funneling more than $6.3 million combined into the races. They are:

  • James Gaughran, a Democrat, and Carl Marcellino, the Republican incumbent, in Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island

  • Jeff Pravato, a Republican, and John Brooks, the Democratic incumbent, in Nassau and Suffolk Counties

  • Tom Basile, a Republican, and James Skoufis, a Democrat, vying for an open seat in Orange County

  • Bob Antonacci, a Republican, and John Mannion, a Democrat, competing for an open seat in the Syracuse area

More than $11.6 million has arrived for state races in New York this cycle from PACs and other outside groups — in addition to the candidates’ money and contributions from the Democratic and Republican Senate campaign committees. More than $5.3 million of that outside money went to those four hotly contested races.

Michael Malbin, the executive director of the Washington-based Campaign Finance Institute and a political-science professor at the University at Albany, said the tight focus suggests that the Democrats believe they have a very narrow path to victory, through very specific districts.

“The election’s on a knife’s edge,” Professor Malbin said.

The two Long Island districts went for Hillary Clinton over Mr. Trump in 2016, but by just 3 points in both. The Syracuse district voted for Ms. Clinton by 5 points; the Orange County district chose Mr. Trump by 4.

Republican donors are hedging their bets
Republicans, backed by moneyed interests such as real estate, have for years consistently out-raised the Democrats. They still lead the Democrats in campaign funds this year — but the gap could have been larger, had it not been for some outside groups that seem to be sitting this year out.

New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a well-funded PAC that supports charter schools, donated close to $7 million to Republicans in 2016, with nearly $6.6 million already infused by the end of October. But this year, as of the same time, the group had spent only $1.2 million.

Some traditional Republican donors have also started giving to Democrats, perhaps to make sure they are in the good graces of the party that comes out on top.

For example, the Real Estate Board PAC, which gave more than $260,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee in 2016, had given them only $120,000 this year, as of the most recent filing. And it has donated $95,000 to the Democrats’ committee, after giving nothing in 2016.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, dismissed the lower spending totals, pointing to other groups that have ramped up their spending, such as Balance New York, a PAC funded by real estate, that had spent $1.8 million as of Nov. 1.

Voters are feeling the blitz
The flood of campaign cash has meant that voters in competitive districts are seeing a torrent of television and digital advertisements, mailers and paid canvassers.

Mr. Gaughran said he had opened four campaign offices across the district, hired twice as many staff members and was flush enough to be able to reimburse the expenses of a squadron of volunteers 20 to 25 times larger than in his last unsuccessful run in 2016.

In the Senate district near Syracuse-area seat, which falls within the media market for three competitive congressional races, the television waves “are completely soaked up with negative ads,” said Ian Phillips, the campaign manager for Mr. Mannion, the Democrat — so much so that their team decided to run a spoof of an attack ad on Mr. Mannion.

In Nassau County, where Anna Kaplan, a Democrat, is challenging the Republican incumbent, Elaine Phillips, cellphones light up with texts from the campaigns, and social media is awash with ads.

Steve Tutino, who was eating lunch at a cafe near the Mineola train station, said he had been surprised to see that canvassers for Ms. Phillips had come to his door.

“They left fliers, which hasn’t happened in years,” Mr. Tutino, 57, said.

Last-minute shenanigans are afoot

Amid much national conversation about the need for more civility in politics, candidates on both sides have accused their opponents of dirty tricks.

Voters in the Syracuse race recently received a mailer featuring Mr. Mannion posing with Mayor Bill de Blasio, alongside a warning about how Mr. Mannion supported the “far-left, radical NYC agenda.” But Mr. Mannion has never met the mayor, according to his aides; someone had pasted the mayor’s head onto a photograph of Mr. Mannion with his campaign manager.

On a lighter note, Mr. Gaughran was also on the end of some unflattering Photoshop attention: His head was pasted onto that of Sacha Baron Cohen’s satirical Borat character.

In a Republican-held district in the Hudson Valley, the incumbent, Senator Terrence Murphy, accused his Democratic opponent, Peter Harckham, of sending paid protesters to his office and installing a camera to spy on the office. Mr. Harckham said the camera was pointed at a sign for his own campaign to make sure that no supporters of Mr. Murphy vandalized it.

What does it all mean?

The short answer: a lot.

“If it goes Democratic, all three branches would be Democratic,” Professor Malbin said of the Senate. “It would have major consequences.”

Indeed, the Senate is the Republicans’ last stronghold in state government, as New York City Democrats dominate the Assembly and voters have recently elected a string of Democratic governors. If the Senate also lands in Democratic hands, the Republicans will be virtually powerless to stop legislation that progressives have been demanding for years.

The potential implications have energized Democrats not only in New York but across the country, as liberal states have sought to counteract some of Mr. Trump’s policies on the federal level. Mr. Gaughran’s campaign has received more than 4,600 individual contributions since September, compared to fewer than 50 for Mr. Marcellino. Only about a fourth of Mr. Gaughran’s contributions came from New York.

“What it’s telling you is that there are people out there who recognize that this is potentially of national significance,” Professor Malbin said.