Long Island state senators short on influence after Democrats' deal

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) speaks at State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) speaks at the Republican Party Convention in Rye Brook on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

The collapse of the Republican-Democrat power-sharing coalition in the State Senate could signal the decline of Long Island's powerful Senate delegation.

Nine Republican Long Islanders, for years, have stood together as an effective counterforce against more powerful New York City-centered interests.

With Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) potentially on his way out as Senate co-leader, how would Long Island fare under a Democratic-majority State Senate?

And a Democratic-majority Assembly? And a Democrat as New York City mayor?

"It won't be good," said political consultant Michael Dawidziak, who mostly works for Republicans -- more for reasons of geography than political party. For decades, he notes, New York has distributed resources in this order:

Manhattan.

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The rest of New York City.

And Everybody Else.

That was true, he pointed out, even when a Republican, Michael Bloomberg, was New York City mayor.

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Also true is how Albany relies on Long Island to be a significant revenue generator.

"They see Long Island, they see rich," Dawidziak said.

Which -- given the high cost of living, high property taxes, high utility costs and the Great Recession's assault on the local middle class -- is ridiculous.

But assumption too often becomes reality, which is where the Long Island Nine so often stepped in. Take state school aid, for example, which is, perhaps, the most visible aspect of how Albany redistributes state resources.

Every year, it seems, the state gives less than districts say they needed; and every year, after Long Island's senators step in, funding increases.

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At one point, Long Island did have two Democratic senators, Craig Johnson of Port Washington and Brian Foley of Blue Point. But neither won re-election after siding with New York City Democrats to approve, among other things, the MTA payroll tax.

To regain Senate control, Republicans would have to win every seat they currently hold in addition to picking up two or three others upstate.

Three local races are competitive, a reflection of the region's growing Democratic, blank and third-party voter registrations.

One illustration: In Suffolk's 3rd State Senate District, Adrienne Esposito, an environmentalist who is a registered blank -- meaning she has no party affiliation -- is running against Islip Town Board member Anthony Senft, a Conservative with Republican backing.

Esposito wants to run on the Democratic line and could face a September primary with Joe Fritz, a Brentwood attorney, for the spot.

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But wait.

In theory, Long Island Republicans could try to woo Esposito over to the GOP line before the election -- a move that could help Skelos, since Senft has come under fire for Islip's handling of an illegal-dumping scandal.

Thus far, Senft's remained firmly in the race. But should Republicans (and Conservatives) decide to pilot a different course, they likely would have to find a candidate who could move quickly to amass money and recognition.

Esposito may fit that bill. And as a blank she could caucus with Republicans. Sound far-fetched? That's the move Nassau Republicans made by backing Denise Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with majority Republicans in the county legislature.

In Nassau's 8th State Senate District, veteran county lawmaker David Denenberg (D-Merrick), who has a history of racking up big victories in a majority-Republican district, faces freshman Republican county Legis. Michael Venditto of Massapequa. In Nassau's 7th District, incumbent Jack Martins (R-Mineola), a Republican, is up against Adam Haber, a Democrat, who is largely self-funded.

Last week's deal among Democrats could well mark the demise of Long Island's long run of influence in the State Senate.

But Skelos won't go down without a fight.

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