NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02: Todd Ferrara casts his ballot with daughter Julia, 8 months, at a Manhattan polling place November 2, 2010 in New York City. President Barack Obama's Democrats are facing challenges from Republicans nationwide as they attempt to seize control of Capitol Hill. In the New York state gubernatorial race, Democrat Andrew Cuomo is favored to defeat Republican Carl Paladino. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
This year of fear in New York politics yielded at least one clear winner: The voters.
In victories small and large, voters tossed out a few incumbents who would have once seemed unassailable, threatened to put the blue state's Senate in Republican hands, and infused the fear of an alert electorate into New York politics.
"I threw in some votes for Green Party candidates just because I want to register the fact that I don't think we should have just two parties," said Victoria Brooks, 54, a college worker from Schenectady County's Glenville after voting on Tuesday.
Thomas Jefferson made the case in 1789: "Whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, the people, if well informed, may be relied on to set them to rights."
Some elements of Tuesday night that escaped the endless political chatter in the media showed New York voters may well have done just that.
An Associated Press analysis of exit poll results found two in five New York voters consider themselves political moderates, according to the poll of 1,816 New York voters conducted by Edison Research in a random sample of 30 precincts statewide. That's an important lesson to two parties who often let their extreme wings drive the primaries.
The exit poll also showed about three-fifths of New York voters identified the economy as the most important issue facing the country.
That puts even more pressure on Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo, a long time liberal, to prove his fiscal conservative promises are for real, even in the face of many of the special interests that funded his campaign. But it also gives him a tool to get the Legislature — where Democrats in both houses suffered losses — to cut spending instead of what he called lopping off low-hanging fruit.
And Democrats who survived the nationwide tea party wave should realize the tea party isn't over in New York, and it's more real than they had hoped. About a third of all New York voters questioned said they supported the conservative tea party movement either strongly or somewhat, a third opposed it and a third said they were neutral.
In beating tea party Republican Carl Paladino, Democrat Andrew Cuomo showed experience in government matters to voters and that "throw the rascals out" is a better bumper sticker than political treatise.
Yet the exit poll also contained a warning for Cuomo despite his overwhelming win: Voters were evenly divided on his honesty and trustworthiness.
And for politicians comfortable in New York's liberal tradition, Tuesday showed 1.4 million voters, or 34 percent of the vote, chose political novice Paladino. They apparently either agreed with his conservative views on abortion, gay marriage, immigration and welfare, or voters didn't care that he felt that way in an election focused on economic views.
For Republicans, Democratic voters showed they will vote Republican if the GOP offers strong candidates who go beyond simply saying "no" to Democratic policies.
Once little-known Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan made a good run at the state attorney general's office. Donovan lost Tuesday by 12 percentage points to Democrat Eric Schneiderman who had far more campaign cash, more than a decade in the Senate, and a lock on the Manhattan vote.
In the comptroller's race, Republican Harry Wilson, the 39-year-old political newcomer, won more than 1.8 million votes and carried most of the state's 62 counties in narrowly losing to incumbent Democrat Thomas DiNapoli.
But it was DiNapoli who left the 2010 race with a critical image late into the night. Standing beside DiNapoli was powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver stuck by his former colleague in the Assembly when Cuomo, the front-running candidate for governor, refused to endorse DiNapoli even when polls showed him in a dead heat. On the campaign trail, Cuomo sometimes didn't mention DiNapoli among Democrats on the ticket.
The comptroller certifies and audits the state budget and executive branch spending, among other duties. In supporting DiNapoli, voters gave a four-year term to a comptroller who owes the governor-elect nothing.