National News

Republicans’ Control of Senate Looks Shakier After 3 Decide to Retire

Posted April 27, 2018 9:19 p.m. EDT

If New York Republicans are to maintain their razor-thin edge in the state Senate in the November elections, they will now have to do so without the benefit of three incumbents — including two of their more venerable members.

Sens. John A. DeFrancisco and John J. Bonacic announced Friday that they would not seek re-election. Together, DeFrancisco, 71, and Bonacic, 75, have served in the Senate for nearly 45 years.

Their announcement came one day after another Senate Republican, Kathleen A. Marchione, a three-term incumbent from Saratoga, announced that she would retire.

Their departures give Democrats a clean shot at picking up an open Senate seat, and complicate what figures to be an already challenging task for the Republicans during the November midterms, when Democrats are expected to flock to the polls as a rebuke of the Trump administration.

In recent years, the state Senate has been at the center of an epic — and often convoluted — partisan struggle.

With the Assembly and governor’s office in Democratic hands, the Senate has been under Republican control as a result of a power-sharing arrangement between eight breakaway Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference, and the Republicans. A ninth Democratic senator, Simcha Felder, also caucused with Republicans.

But with Cynthia Nixon’s energetic primary challenge of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and the emergence of anti-Trump activists targeting state and local politicians in New York, the pressure had mounted on the IDC to return to the Democratic bloc. In early April, Cuomo helped broker a reconciliation between the two factions.

On Tuesday, Democrats in New York won special elections for two vacated Senate seats, giving them, in theory, a one-vote majority in the 63-seat body. But hours before polls closed that day, Felder declared that he was going to continue to sit with the Republicans — keeping that party in power.

That was immediately followed by renewed pledges from state Democratic officials to liberal activists to flip Republican seats in the Senate in November to create a less tenuous majority there.

But the state Republicans have voiced their own determination to hold onto their control. Indeed, Republican senators this week gave Felder, who represents a predominantly Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, a standing ovation after his pledge of political allegiance.

In a statement, Sen. John J. Flanagan, the Senate Republican leader, said he was “confident that our Republican majority will field excellent candidates in each of these districts,” adding that all had been represented by Republicans for many years.

“New Yorkers know that our majority is the only thing standing in the way of the New York City politicians implementing an agenda that will hurt our economy and make life more difficult for hardworking middle-class taxpayers,” he said, predicting Republican victory in November.

Geoff Berman, executive director of the state’s Democratic Party, had his own prediction.

“It seems these GOP incumbents are seeing just what I see after Tuesday’s results,” he said. “There’s a blue wave building that in November would likely sweep them out of office.”

Two of the three Senate retirements came in districts where the number of registered Democrats either surpasses or equals that of Republicans.

DeFrancisco recently suspended his bid for the Republican nomination for governor. His district, which includes Syracuse and has sent Republicans to the Senate for more than a half century, is evenly split between the two parties, with both claiming 66,000 registrants. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 13,000 in Bonacic’s district in the Hudson Valley. But Marchione’s district favors Republicans, who have 6,000 more registered voters.