The use of negative television ads has escalated in the final days of the State Senate race between Democrat Todd Kaminsky and Republican Christopher McGrath, with control of the chamber potentially hanging in the balance.
With the special election coming Tuesday, an independent nonprofit supporting McGrath this week released a spot that branded Kaminsky, a state assemblyman from Long Beach, as “Taxing Todd.” The ad said a Kaminsky victory would ensure that New York City Democrats and Mayor Bill de Blasio would be “on course to run every part of Albany” and hike state taxes.
Kaminsky’s campaign this week rolled out an ad that tied McGrath, an attorney from Hewlett, to former GOP State Sen. Dean Skelos, whose conviction last year on federal corruption crimes opened up the seat representing southwestern Nassau. It accused McGrath of “fleecing taxpayers and victims” in his work as a personal injury attorney.
The dueling spots, costing nearly $2 million combined, come after months in which TV advertising on both sides was largely focused on the candidates’ positive, biographical pitches. As of early April, Kaminsky, McGrath and their allies had already spent about $1.7 million on TV ads.
“It’s commonplace for all of the attack ads to come at the end,” said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia-based political consultant who largely works with Republicans, but is not involved in this race.
But because of the special election, he added, “in this case, it’s kind of silly.”
Dawidziak said negative advertising is generally most effective in suppressing turnout in larger general elections. He said its impact in a special election — even one that will be held on the same day as presidential primaries — is questionable.
“Donald Trump supporters are not going to stay home because there’s a negative ad against Chris McGrath,” Dawidziak said. “Hillary Clinton supporters are not going to stay home because there’s a negative ad against Kaminsky.”
The ad against Kaminsky was funded by New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which is run by a nonprofit that backs Common Core standards and charter schools. Senate Republicans strongly support charter schools.
De Blasio’s use in the ad is meant to underscore Republican arguments that New York City interests would increase taxes and spending for Long Islanders should Democrats gain control of the Senate. McGrath has mentioned De Blasio frequently in his own campaign ads.
Kaminsky has denied that he would vote against the interests of Long Islanders. Republicans currently hold 31 of the 63 seats in the Senate, but control the chamber thanks to a governing coalition with six breakaway Democrats. There is one vacancy.
Kaminsky’s TV ad attacks McGrath by trying to tie him to Skelos, identified in the ad as McGrath’s “pal.” The ad cites Skelos’ corruption conviction, and attempts to raise questions about McGrath’s ethics. It cites several cases his law firm took on, including representing firefighters sickened responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A previous McGrath ad had said McGrath “refused to be paid” for work representing the families of firefighters killed in the attacks as they sought federal benefits. The Kaminsky campaign has said the spot falsely implied that all of McGrath’s 9/11-related work was pro-bono. Kaminsky cites a later case where McGrath’s firm collected millions of dollars in legal fees — and unsuccessfully sought more — from a landmark settlement with New York City over sickened first responders.
McGrath’s campaign has denied that the pro-bono claim was misleading, saying representation of firefighters’ families was separate from the firm’s paid work on the first responder settlement.