President Obama Chimes in On NY State Races

The disgraced former heads of the state Assembly and Senate were forced out of power after corruption convictions

The Democratic candidate in Tuesday's high-stakes legislative election on Long Island received some last-minute campaign help from President Barack Obama.

In a recorded phone message to voters, the Democratic president endorsed Todd Kaminsky in his bid to beat Republican Chris McGrath and win the Senate seat long held by Dean Skelos, the former Republican Senate leader convicted of corruption last year.

The outcome of the race could determine which party leads the Senate and could give Democrats a shot at total control of state government.

Democrats and Republicans now hold 31 seats each in the state Senate. Republicans maintain control, however, thanks to the support of a handful of breakaway Democrats who crossed their own party to empower the GOP.

That tenuous agreement could change if Kaminsky hands the Democrats an outright majority. Democrats already hold the executive branch, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the majority of seats in the state Assembly.

In the phone message, Obama cites Kaminsky's support for paid family leave, middle-class tax cuts, school funding and a higher minimum wage. The message went out to voters in the district beginning Monday, the latest indication of just how serious both parties view the race.

Earlier this month, Kaminsky picked up the endorsement of Democratic former President Bill Clinton. And in an unusual victory for a Republican, McGrath last week secured the support of 1199 SEIU, a powerful union of health care workers.

McGrath, an attorney, has said he's the better representative for Long Island. He has sought to tie Kaminsky to Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and has said that if Kaminsky is elected state government could fall under the control of Democratic leaders from New York City.

Kaminsky, who now serves in the Assembly, is a former corruption prosecutor who has campaigned on the need to clean up Albany following the convictions of Skelos and others. Skelos was found guilty of using his influence to arrange jobs and payments for his son, and his attorney said the offenses were "a complete aberration from an otherwise exemplary life."

Three other special legislative elections are being held Tuesday, which is also the day of the New York presidential primary.

Four candidates ran in the Manhattan Assembly district that had been represented by former Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver, who also was convicted of corruption last year but had denied committing any crime. Democrat Alice Cancel beat Republican Lester Chang, Working Families Party candidate Yuh-Line Niou and Green Party candidate Dennis Levy.

With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Cancel secured 41 percent of the vote in Tuesday's special election. Yuh-Line Niou placed second with 35 percent.

Republican Lester Chang and Green Party candidate Dennis Levy came in third and fourth in the race.

Cancel is a Democratic district leader and works in the office of the city comptroller.

Silver had represented the district for nearly four decades when he was forced out last fall after being convicted in a $5 million corruption case.

The 65th Assembly district includes the financial district, Chinatown and Battery Park.

The two other races have attracted less attention outside their districts: 

Republican Ronald Castorina Jr. is running unopposed for an Assembly seat on Staten Island vacated by Joseph Borelli when he was elected to the New York City Council. 

The other is a Brooklyn Assembly seat where Democrat Jaime Williams beat Republican Jeffrey Ferretti for the seat left empty when Roxanne Persaud was elected to the Senate last fall.

With about 80 percent of precincts reporting, Williams won 77 percent of the vote in Tuesday's special legislative election in the 59th Assembly district to defeat Ferretti, a real estate broker.

Williams is the former chief of staff to Roxanne Persaud, who represented the district in the Assembly until she won a state Senate seat in last November's elections.

The heavily Democratic 59th Assembly district includes portions of southeastern Brooklyn, including Carnarsie.

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