Democratic party chairman Jay Jacobs speaks as returns on come...

Democratic party chairman Jay Jacobs speaks as returns on come in during the Nassau County Democrat's election results party at the Garden City Hotel, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. Credit: Jeff Bachner

ALBANY — Long Island was a bright spot for Republicans on Election Day this month, but the enthusiasm was tempered by Democratic victories upstate and nationally.

Republicans crowed about winning the Suffolk County executive contest for the first time in 20 years, holding on to the North Hempstead supervisor seat, and maintaining the Suffolk and Nassau county legislatures, among other Island victories.

Upstate, they also flipped mayoral seats in Troy, Saratoga Springs and Utica. They rolled to an easy reelection in the Onondaga County (Syracuse) executive race.

But that was offset by some surprising or easier-than-expected Democratic wins. In Monroe County (Rochester), a Democrat won reelection as county executive for the first time, and the party flipped control of the county legislature for the first time in more than three decades.

Democrats flipped majorities in the Cayuga and Sullivan county legislatures and Binghamton City Council, won the Dutchess County district attorney’s office for the first time, and flipped control of the mayor’s office in Poughkeepsie while also electing the city’s first black mayor, among other wins.

Given that, neither claims of a red wave for Republicans nor a blue wave for Democrats really hold up, analysts said.

“I can definitely see Republicans looking at Long Island and seeing something to give them hope [for 2024], but the picture is more nuanced and complex,” said Lisa Parshall, a political scientist at Daemen University in Buffalo.

Parshall said it’s possible the issues of crime and immigration played better for Republicans on Long Island than elsewhere, along with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s housing and zoning proposals, which had stirred opposition in Nassau and Suffolk.

The leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties in New York also cited concern about crime as a Long Island factor. Even though crime rates for homicide and some other crimes have begun to decline to pre-pandemic levels, concerns about crime play on the Island.

“Crime in New York City is the reason people moved out to the suburbs,” said Ed Cox, state GOP chairman.

The GOP’s signature victory on Nov. 7 was Edward Romaine defeating Dave Calone for Suffolk County executive. Romaine had been seen as the favorite though his victory did end a 20-year Democratic hold on the office.

In Nassau, Republicans held on to town supervisor offices in North Hempstead, Hempstead and Oyster Bay. In the most closely contested race, North Hempstead incumbent Jennifer DeSena defeated Democrat Jon Kaiman, a former supervisor.

Cox also praised GOP county leaders — Joseph Cairo in Nassau and Jessie Garcia in Suffolk — for developing “party organizational strength that’s been built up over time.”

But asked about party losses upstate, especially in counties such as Monroe, which the GOP controlled for long stretches, Cox said: “It’s a different situation,” though he didn’t criticize any leaders.

This marks three consecutive years Republicans have won the major races on the Island, which has sparked criticism of Democratic leadership and get-out-the-vote efforts.

"I still wonder about the Democratic leadership and what happened in 2021 and 2022," Parshall said. "They're being 'out messaged' for certain."

Jay Jacobs, the state Democratic chairman who also chairs Nassau, pinned it on concerns about crime and Long Island Republicans' campaign war chest.

“I’d venture to say Monroe Republicans and Cayuga Republicans didn’t raise the same kind of money Nassau and Suffolk Republicans raised,” Jacobs said.

 Looking at Island results, Jacobs added: “I think there’s a residual effect of the crime issue, and Republicans play on that.”

Asked why Democrats seemed to fare better in some upstate races than on the Island, Jacobs attributed part of it to local issues.

 Gov. Kathy Hochul praised Jacobs at a Democratic state committee meeting this week, citing a "damn good list" of victories upstate, City & State reported. She said Jacobs -- who strongly backed her during the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial primary -- deserved credit for keeping the party together.

 But she also acknowledged the party's losses on the Island, saying residents aren't hearing Democrats' messaging "loud enough."

 “Yes, we have some areas we need to go back,” Hochul said, adding: “We’re coming back for Long Island.” 

 Grant Reeher, a Syracuse University political scientist, said that in situations in which one local candidate or issue doesn’t stand out, national themes — abortion, the chaos in Congress that saw the U.S. House without a leader for a stretch, the looming presidential election — come into play.

Incumbent county executives in the Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo areas appeared popular and won reelection no matter the party.

“Where you didn’t have that [situation], this was the type of election where [national issues] pushed voters more than usual,” Reeher said.

Nationally, Democrats fared better than Republicans in some closely watched races and referendums — often because of the issue of abortion rights.

In Virginia, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin wasn’t up for reelection, but was campaigning to gain control of the state legislature. Among other issues, he sought to neutralize the abortion issue by supporting a “limit” on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Instead, Democrats won both houses in Virginia.

In Ohio, which voted Republican in the last two presidential elections, voters — by a 2-1 ratio — approved an amendment to establish a right to abortion access. It became the latest red state to back an abortion referendum in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rollback of federal abortion rights.

New York long has had laws ensuring abortion access; Jacobs said voters here don’t see abortion rights as threatened or view them at stake in next year’s elections.

But next year is different.

In 2024, New Yorkers will vote on a statewide referendum on whether to amend the state constitution to expand protections from discrimination to cover “pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive health care and autonomy.”

Supporters have said those provisions are intended to protect abortion rights in the state. Some Democrats hope it also will boost voter turnout in a year the White House and Congress are up for grabs.


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