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NYS Capitol. Photo: Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol. Photo: Karen DeWitt

State senate fight down to the wire, complicated by Sandy

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Tuesday's elections will decide which party, Republicans, or Democrats, control the State Senate. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is further complicating matters, with access to polling places still uncertain in some districts in Westchester, New York City, and Long Island. The races could come down to the wire.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

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Senator Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican, who heads the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, was confident about the GOP’s chances for hanging on to the State Senate for another two years.
 
“I’m going to say conservatively, I believe that we’ll have 34 seats,” Libous said in October. “And there’s a possibility for more.”
 
Senate Democratic campaign leader Michael Gianaris was equally hopeful.
 
“We’re in a position to regain the majority,” said Gianaris, who points out that the state overall has more registered Democrats than Republicans.
 
The GOP controlled the Senate for over forty years, until the Democrats briefly took power in 2009 and 2010, before losing the Senate back to the GOP in November of 2010.
 
That was before Hurricane Sandy wiped out power to most of Long Island, parts of Westchester, and lower Manhattan, and floods and fires had driven thousands of others out of their homes.
 
Senator Joseph Addabbo, a Democrat, and his challenger GOP City Councilman Erich Ulrich are competing in a close race in a storm ravaged district in Queens. Both men have stopped campaigning and are concentrating on flood recovery, and in Ulrich’s case, their personal lives. Ulrich’s wife had a baby on Halloween.
 
Steve Greenberg, a spokesman for Siena College Research Institute, which conducts political polls, and has surveyed several races, says it’s unknown how the devastation will affect voting patterns and the fight for control of the Senate.
 
“I don’t think anybody knows at this point how any of these elections that are being held downstate are going to be affected,” said Greenberg.
 
Other parts of the state were largely unaffected from the storm. There are contested races in the Rochester region, where Assemblyman Sean Hanna, a Republican faces Democratic challenger Ted O’Brien, and in the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys, where Republicans, who controlled redistricting in the Senate, drew a 63rd seat to favor the GOP. In that new district, Assemblyman George Amedore, the Republican candidate, is facing a stronger than expected challenge from Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk.
 
Polls released by Siena Friday show Democrat O’Brien now ahead of Hanna by 11 points at 50 percent to 39 percent , and Amedore and Tkaczyk more evenly matched with Republican Amedore up by just three points, at 47 percent to 44 percent.  
 
One of the many groups that has been spending time and money to influence those two races is Naral, the National  Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. New York Naral President Andrea Miller says women’s issues might be the key topic to swing the two races.
 
“A majority of women voters are looking at issues like women’s access to basic medical care,” said Miller. “These are not only rights issues, they are also very much  pocketbook issues.”
 
Republicans Amedore and Hanna have focused more on traditional economic themes, like tax reduction and job creation.
 
Governor Andrew Cuomo is also a factor in the Senate races. Cuomo has prided himself on his bipartisan working relationship with the Senate Republicans. The GOP helped pass a property tax cap, and allowed same sex marriage to be brought to the floor for a vote. Cuomo has remained neutral over which party he prefers to see win the Senate, a stance that could harm the Democrats.

“I want the Senate that the people of the state elect,” Cuomo said in mid-October.  “I don’t want to tell a person in any district ‘you should elect a Democrat or you should elect a Republican.’”

The governor even went out of his way to obliquely criticize a Democratic opponent to Western New York Senator Mark Grisanti. Grisanti, a Republican, provided one of several swing votes for Cuomo on the gay marriage bill. Grisanti’s Democratic opponent, Michael Amodeo, says he’s against the property tax cap passed last year, as well as a new benefit tier that requires higher payments towards pensions. Cuomo says he’s not going to support someone who he says is going to “undo” two years of his legislative agenda.

“I don’t care if you call him a Democrat or a Republican or whatever,” Cuomo said.   

Grisanti leads Amodeo and Conservative Party candidate Charles Swanick in polls.  

Cuomo has so far endorsed one Republican Senator, Stephen Saland, and one Democrat, Senator Joe Addabbo. Both provided key swing votes for same sex marriage. The governor also endorsed Hudson Valley Democratic Senator David Carlucci, a member of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, which often sides with the Republican Majority in the Senate.

Many Senate candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, have featured Governor Cuomo’s image in their campaign ads and mailers.

Any last minute campaigning by Cuomo in the Senate or other races is unlikely now. The Governor has been fully occupied with storm recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

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