Elections remake Albany's political landscape
Posted November 8, 2018 7:24 a.m. EST
ALBANY, N.Y. _ While Democrats nationwide saw mixed results Tuesday evening, their longed-for "blue wave" swept over New York, where the party scored a resounding, long-awaited victory in the state Senate.
From holding a bare 31-member minority in the 63-seat chamber heading into the election, the conference has now grown to a substantial majority of as many as 39 once final ballots are counted. That would be the largest Democratic majority in more than a century, a number that presents a different dynamic from the party's disastrous run in the majority in 2009 and 2010, when it had only the minimum of 32 votes to pass legislation.
After five decades of nearly continuous Republican rule of the Senate, Democrats have many pent-up policy priorities, and the key players will shift. Here are some of the winners and losers within the chamber's orbit.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins: The Westchester state senator is set to become the first woman in state history to be part of the closed-door budget and legislative negotiations known up until now as "three men in a room." She is also the first Democratic leader of the state Senate since 1914 to hail from somewhere other than New York City. That could bring a more suburban perspective on issues such as property taxes, while also reflecting the conference's liberal views on social policy. It remains to be seen how far left the conference will push on hot-button priorities such as single-payer health care. Another factor: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo helped elect some of the conference's more moderate new members, who will surely have an impact on matters such as tax policy.
NYSUT: A longtime major ally of the Senate Democrats, the state teachers union went all-in this year for the conference after Senate Republicans declined to allow a vote on a NYSUT-backed bill ending the linkage between students' state exam results and teachers' evaluations. There should be plenty of votes now in the Democratic conference to pass the union's priorities _ especially given the defeat of the Independent Democratic Conference, which was friendly to (and funded by) charter school supporters. One disappointment for NYSUT was the likely defeat of John Mannion, a biology teacher, for an open Senate seat that the union had targeted; the Democrats will, however, add an educator to their ranks in Sen.-elect Rachel May, an administrator at Syracuse University and former high school math teacher.
Working Families Party: Few interest groups have fought as hard for a Democratic state Senate as the WFP, which also led the charge to unseat members of the IDC. Now the liberal party, which lost much of its union support over its decision not to back Cuomo this year, will be responsible for holding Democrats accountable for their vow to bring about publicly funded elections and more.
The Parkside Group: The well-paid campaign consultant for Senate Democrats took its share of criticism for the conference's past failures to gain the majority. Now, the firm's phones are likely ringing off the hook: As with a number of other outfits across the state, the political consulting firm's main business is actually lobbying, which means that Parkside is well positioned to lobby those they helped elect. The firm has close ties to Stewart-Cousins and other members. With greater power also comes scrutiny: When Democrats last held the majority in 2009-2010, the firm took criticism for lobbying the mother of Parkside principal Evan Stavisky, Queens Democratic state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, who is again poised to become the chair of the Higher Education Committee. (Other Parkside employees _ and not Stavisky himself _ lobbied the senator.) Other Democratic consulting firms that worked for pro-Senate Democratic outside groups include Red Horse Strategies and BerlinRosen.
Mike Gianaris: The chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee since 2011, the Queens senator took his lumps _ and sacrificed his position as deputy leader _ in order to forge a reunification between the Senate Democrats and the IDC in April. With the IDC now a distant memory, Gianaris is set to serve as a power broker.
Greenberg Traurig: This lobbying firm is already a top Albany earner. The firm's Josh Oppenheimer was compliance counsel for both the Senate Democrats and the state Democratic committee.
Eleanor's Legacy: The group, which helps elect female candidates in New York, financed The Baker Project, an initiative to elect pro-choice women to the state Senate. Through both contributions to those candidates and an independent expenditure effort, the group helped elect at least three female Senate Democratic winners.
Gary Greenberg: Greenberg, a minority owner in Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel, is also a longtime advocate for the Child Victims Act, legislation that would give greater legal recourse to victims of child sexual abuse. The bill finally appears poised for passage with Democratic control of the Senate. A PAC founded by Greenberg _ himself a victim of abuse as a child _ spent six-figure sums, and Greenberg also appeared at 16 rallies for 23 Democratic Senate candidates.
John Flanagan: A factor largely out of Flanagan's control, the presidency of Donald J. Trump, was responsible for sweeping away the long-held Senate Republican majority. Flanagan will not only lose his title as the chamber's majority leader, but with much of the Long Island Senate Republican delegation now replaced by Democrats, he may well lose his position as GOP leader. An upstate voice could well take Flanagan's place.
MirRam Group: In non-state-Senate-related developments, the Manhattan-based lobbying firm is a winner, as the longtime consultant for New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who was elected as state attorney general. But on the Senate front, the firm was a loser in the September primaries: It served as the campaign consultant for the former IDC members. Six of those eight members lost, including the IDC's former leader, Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein. Perhaps not coincidentally, MirRam recently gave a $25,000 campaign donation to the campaign arm of the Senate Democrats.
Charter school supporters: It could have been worse. With polling showing a big night coming for Senate Democrats, deep-pocketed charter schools supporters did not offer their usual millions in outside support for their longtime allies in the chamber's GOP. Instead, some major charter supporters (such as Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton) even gave major last-minute donations to Democrats for Education Reform, a group backing pro-charter Senate Democrats. That group supported three Senate Democratic candidates, though only one of them (Kevin Thomas of Long Island) looked likely to be victorious.
Simcha Felder: Before Tuesday night, a single person controlled the balance of the majority in the state Senate: a Brooklyn Democrat who since his election in 2012 chose to conference with the chamber's Republicans. Felder represents the heavily Orthodox district of Borough Park and had been able to wield broad power in the Senate GOP conference on his pet issues. But his decision to stay with the GOP, rather than flip the majority to Democrats before the election, means he will have less influence in the new Democratic majority _ although he could still end up joining the conference.
The Catholic Church: Senate Republicans had long held up the Child Victims Act. Perhaps forecasting Tuesday's results, the church recently signaled a willingness to compromise on a key element of the legislation: allowing a window to revive old cases.
The real estate industry: Jobs for New York, an independent expenditure group run by the Real Estate Board of New York, since 2014 had spent millions backing Senate Republicans. This year, the group cooled on Republicans and spent its ample funds on a single race _ to help Republican state Sen. Elaine Phillips, who lost to Democrat Anna Kaplan. While REBNY members made some effort to court Senate Democrats this election cycle, another city-based landlords group, the Rent Stabilization Association, poured $350,000 into a group that backed Senate Republicans. That could imperil the interests of the RSA, which represents smaller, rent-stabilized landlords, when New York City's rent laws are up for renewal in 2019.
Republican lobbyists: Some Albany lobbyists that had deep ties to the Senate Republicans could have a bit less clout under Democratic rule. A few that come to mind are Mike Avella, a former Senate Republican counsel; Ken Riddett, the former counsel to ex-Senate Republican leader Joseph L. Bruno; and former Senate GOP staffers Steven Harris and John Cordo of the firm Cordo & Co. The campaign consulting firm for the real-estate-backed group Jobs for New York was Mercury Public Affairs, which has a number of Republican ties, but also boasts many Democratic veterans. Another firm historically influential on the GOP side has been Park Strategies, the firm founded by Republican former U.S. Sen. Al D'Amato. D'Amato notably did back Cuomo for governor.
Nassau County Republicans: Just four years ago, the Senate Majority Leader was Dean Skelos, a Republican from deep-red Nassau County. Where once all nine state Senate seats on Long Island were Republican, now the GOP appears likely to hold just three _ and none of the five that are at least partially in Nassau County. A spate of recent corruption trials featuring Skelos and other Nassau Republicans contributed to the downfall. Republicans had long made the argument that Long Island would suffer under Democratic rule _ in particular, with less aid to public schools. But Long Island's many new Democrats have an incentive to deliver.
cbragg(at)timesunion.com - 518-454-5619