Voters have chance to reshape NY Legislature

Members of the New York state Assembly hold

Members of the New York state Assembly hold a session at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Photo Credit: AP, 2011

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 New Yorkers have a chance to reshape the state Legislature as in few election cycles before, as a clash of ideologies combines with what is potentially a big turnout for the presidential election.

All 213 legislative seats are up for grabs and more than two dozen are seats vacated by incumbents or filled by short-timers who won special elections to fill partial terms. The unusual amount of retirements coupled with others who took jobs in the Cuomo administration provides a more open field than in most legislative elections, which are held every two years.

Assembly Democrats are expected to easily continue their majority in the 150-seat chamber, where they already hold 100 seats. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has been in the chamber since 1976, is closing on a record tenure as the powerful leader.

The most watched New York contest is the fight for control of the Senate.

Republicans now have a 33-29 majority, the last GOP power base in state politics. There will be 63 seats in the Senate after the election, the result of redistricting.

Democrats, however, hope to take advantage of a nearly 2-to-1 enrollment advantage and another big turnout of voters for Democratic President Barack Obama to take back the majority they held in 2008-10, after 50 years of Republican control.

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"Polls have shown voters want Democrats running the Senate," said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat running the Senate campaigns.

He said a Democratic majority would bring an increase in the minimum wage, greater protection for women's reproductive rights, address pay-equity issues for women and advance a progressive agenda blocked by Republicans.

Gianaris tried to paint Republican senators as being in step with the national Republican party "in marching toward the extreme right wing."

Senate Republicans, however, say they are still in power because they are focused on encouraging employers to create jobs, holding the line on spending, capping the increase in property taxes and pushing other measures in partnership with popular Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo appears in many Republican Senate campaign ads and also has endorsed a Republican senator — Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie — who cast the critical vote a year ago to legalize gay marriage, a major policy victory for Cuomo.

Cuomo hasn't yet been campaigning for a Democratic majority the way many senators had expected and hoped.

"Working with Governor Cuomo, Senate Republicans are turning New York around," said GOP Senate spokesman Scott Reif. "If the Senate Democrats return to power, they're going to raise taxes, spend recklessly and hurt our ability to create new jobs, just like they did during their two chaotic years in the majority."

Republicans also campaigned using the Democrats' two-year control of the majority. From 2008 to 2010, the Senate was marked by gridlock and power grabs.

Siena College polls in October and on Friday showed fewer than a half-dozen races that could swing the majority either way are too close to call.

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