ALBANY (TNS) — With all eyes on Washington, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Election Day may mean big changes in the state capital.
A handful of competitive races across New York and a new class of left-leaning lawmakers could shift the power dynamic in the Capitol and set up a one-party rule for a very long time.
Progressives won big in city primaries and are poised to join Democrats in control of both the Senate and Assembly next year as Democrats look to retain control and potentially expand their majority in the upper chamber.
Democrats have 40 of the 63 seats in the State Senate and are hopeful they can add to their ranks.
“We learned in 2016 to not count votes before the election’s done, so we’ll wait and see how it goes but we’re feeling pretty good,” Sen. Michael Gianaris, who serves as chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, told the Daily News.
Adding two or more members would give Democrats a two-thirds super-majority and the ability to overrule vetoes from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, exert more control over the budget process and have a greater say over appointments to public authority boards.
Additionally, Democrats would have control over the state’s once-a-decade legislative redistricting process.
“It could radically change the balance of power toward the Legislature,” John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said of a potential super-majority.
Pointing to the sweeping budget control Democrats gave Cuomo at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in the spring, Kaehny said only time will tell exactly how assertive they will be next session.
“They’re talking a lot of talk, but it remains to be seen,” he said. “They will have the power to make big changes and basically completely change state law and reorder the balance of power in Albany.”
Republicans meanwhile are railing against Democrat-backed bail and criminal justice reforms, hoping that a “law and order” message resonates with suburban and rural voters and are cautiously optimistic they can regain a foothold after dramatic losses and a wave of retirements in recent years.
“I feel very optimistic about our ability to deny them a super-majority and to try to come back to Albany for next session with a stronger and healthier Republican conference,” said Sen. Rob Ortt, R-Lockport, who became Senate Minority Leader this summer following the retirement of John Flanagan. “We’re competing in every region of the state at this point.”
The GOP has taken aim at the likes of Sen. Andrew Gounardes, D-Brooklyn, a frehman senator who replaced a long-serving Republican, backing former nightclub owner Vito Bruno, who has slammed Democrats over criminal justice issues. A similar tack has been taken by Republican Michael Martucci, a former bus company owner running against Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Catskills.
Sen. Pete Harkham, D-Westchester, is also facing a tough race against former Westchester County executive and Republican gubenatorial candidate Rob Astorino.
A pair of Long Island Democrats, Sens. Kevin Thomas and Monica Martinez, are also fighting to retain their seats as they contend with Republican challengers.
Ortt believes the issues of criminal justice and economic revocery from the coronavirus pandemic will drive voters to choose Republican candidates across the state.
Gianaris, on the other hand, said Democrats have a major fundraising advantage and greater enrollment numbers in some seats left vacant following Republican retirements, which will help Democrats maintain control of the chamber and even add to their conference.
Democrats see a path to victory for the likes of Assemblyman Sean Ryan, competing with Joshua Mertzlufft to fill the Buffalo-area seat formerly held by Chris Jacobs, and Michelle Hinchey, who is running against Republican Richard Amedure, a retired state trooper, and longtime child sex abuse victims advocate Gary Greenberg, who’s mounting a write-in campaign. Other empty seats Upstate have Democrats hopeful they can offset any potential losses.