Democrats Take Control of New York Senate

Dems win party control for first time in 73 years

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    "New Yorkers made history," said Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith of Queens as Democrats took control of the Senate for the first time since 1935.

    Although Democrats won a historic but slim majority Tuesday in New York's Senate, it is likely to be a rough road to majority control.

    Democrats won at least 32 seats in the 62-seat chamber, giving the party control of the full Legislature and governor's office for the first time since 1935. The win also means the governor, and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly, will all be from New York City. It has been 40 years since Democrats controlled the Senate.

    "There is much at stake for New York families and we are committed to delivering for the people of this great state without the excessive partisanship that has stalled progress in Albany," Smith said. "We will rebuild New York's economy, protect middle income families, get New York working again, and make government more accountable."

    Elsewhere around the state, Democrats won three traditionally GOP congressional seats, expanding their near-total dominance of the state's delegation to a degree not seen since 1851. In the next Congress, New York's Democrats will outnumber Republicans 26-3. Democrat Barack Obama also easily captured New York's 31 electoral votes on his way to a historic win that energized Democrats statewide.

    "The analogy is 1974, the Watergate year, when Gov. Malcolm Wilson was swept away and the Assembly permanently turned," said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and dean at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He referred to the Democratic landslide that elected Hugh L. Carey and many legislators, some of whom are still in office.

    "It will be a Senate much more responsive to the governor's priorities in terms of crisis management," Benjamin said. "But longer term, there's a real concern for the outside-of-New-York-City voice in the leadership. I think the Senate Democrats will have to think very hard about who the second guy is."

    Democrats have been chipping away at the GOP majority for years. And despite a rising tide of Democratic voters buoyed by the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, Democrats won just a narrow edge Tuesday in a half-dozen close races.

    "It puts a lot of pressure on the Democrats to produce and be more functional than has been the case for Albany," said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll. "One advantage of a divided government is you always have someone to point a finger at."

    That thought was shared by voter Cindy Fanelli, 71, of New York City, a Democrat who voted for Obama and likes the idea of an all-Democratic state government.

    "That way, there would be no excuse for not getting things through — there would be no one to blame," she said.

    But Republicans, still strong enough to avoid a rout on Tuesday despite enrollment disadvantages and Obama's energized voters, aren't bowing out. The GOP has as many as three Democrats who have reliably sided with the GOP. That could at least provide a strong role for the Republicans in policy; at most it could set the stage for Republicans and three Democratic allies to back a Republican for majority leader come Jan. 1.

    "While our numbers will be fewer our voice will grow louder," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Long Island. "We will continue our fight to maintain balance and ensure an accountable government that represents all of the people throughout every region of the state."

    And Smith, if he's re-elected Democratic leader, will have to contend with Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has been the top Democrat in Albany for most of the last decade or so.

    "If you think everyone will just get together like one big, happy family, that's not going to happen," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

    On Tuesday, Democrats took out two of the Republicans' most senior members.

    Democrat Brian Foley had almost 59 percent of the vote over Republican Sen. Caesar Trunzo in the 3rd District in Suffolk County that Trunzo represented since 1972.

    In the 15th district in Queens, Democrat Joseph Addabbo Jr., had almost 58 percent of the vote over Republican Sen. Serphin Maltese, in office since 1988.

    Assembly Republican leader James Tedisco, who saw Democrats maintain a super majority in his chamber, says it's time for GOP introspection.

    "It is clear that the Republican Party in New York State needs to be rebuilt, from the grass roots up," he said. "We Republicans should not kid ourselves: We face a long, winding road back, but, if we return to — and govern by — our first principles, we will see success, even in one of the bluest of blue states in our nation."