ALBANY — Republicans in Tuesday’s elections chipped away at the Democrats’ control of the State Senate and Assembly, reflecting the difficulty the Democratic majorities face in pursuing a progressive agenda while trying to protect their more moderate members, such as those on Long Island, political experts said.
Democrats, however, retain full control of the Senate and Assembly. Even after Tuesday, Republicans are without direct power to influence legislation under Albany’s rules.
But the rising threat of GOP gains in legislative races might nudge legislators and Gov. Kathy Hochul more toward the center, experts said, particularly because the Republican wins may end the Democrats’ supermajority in the Senate. That would give Hochul more leverage in budget and policy negotiations because it eliminates the legislature’s ability to override any vetoes.
On Tuesday, Long Island was a key battleground for the legislature.
What to Know
- Republicans chipped away at the Democratic majorities in the State Senate and Assembly in Tuesday's elections, but Democrats still retain full control.
- Tuesday’s results statewide will leave Democrats with at least 40 of the Senate’s 63 seats, pending the resolution of two close races. In the Assembly, Republicans flipped six Democratic seats statewide. Three more close races are yet to be determined.
- On Long Island, Republicans won seven of nine State Senate seats after flipping two from Democrats, winning two open seats and returning two GOP senators to office.
In the Senate, Republicans won seven of nine seats after flipping two from Democrats, winning two open seats and returning two GOP senators to office. Democratic Sen. John Brooks lost to Republican Steven Rhoads in the 5th Senate District, and Sen. Anna Kaplan lost to Jack Martins, a former state senator, in the 7th District.
Tuesday’s results statewide will leave Democrats with at least 40 of the Senate’s 63 seats, pending the resolution of two close races. If they fall short of 42 seats, they'll lose the supermajority. Going into Tuesday, the Democrats had a 42-20 majority, with one vacancy.
In the Assembly, Republicans flipped six Democratic seats statewide, including Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), who has been in office since 1992, to Republican Edward A. Flood. Three more close races are yet to be determined.
Assembly Republicans predict a 101-49 divide, while Democrats believe they will have at least a 102-48 majority.
Some observers see the Republican gains as a step in a growing trend.
“On Long Island, I see this as a straight continuation of the 2021 elections,” said Shawn J. Donahue, a political-science professor at the University at Buffalo.
Donahue referred to the Democratic-led legislature’s progressive agenda, which eased requirements for bail and parole since 2019. The measure was part of why some Democratic senators on Long Island lost their seats in the 2020 elections and why more Democrats lost on Tuesday, political experts said.
“Republicans used the crime issue in Nassau and Suffolk [in 2021], and they used it this time and very successfully,” Donahue said.
Controversy over the bail reform law also contributed to the 2021 defeats of Democrats in the Nassau County executive and district attorney races.
“There has to be a lot of warning signs,” said Michael Balboni, a Republican adviser and former state senator from Nassau County. “If I was Carl Heastie, I’d be looking across the landscape and say, ‘We have to re-evaluate and execute.’ With a conference as large as his, it’s hard to do that … The pressure will be how do you find the right balance with a conference that wants to go left, with the folks on Long Island.”
The Democrats’ losses in the legislature and Hochul’s narrow win over Republican Lee Zeldin, who ran on a law-and-order platform, may force a reckoning, said Gerald Benjamin, a distinguished professor emeritus in political science from the State University of New York at New Paltz.
“Now that Hochul is elected in her own right and has had to deal with consequent political risk from the right center of an agenda too far left, the governor can assert herself, not only with veto but with threat of veto, control of access to budget, ability to make and influence appointments — and bring the party agenda back to the center,” Benjamin said.
Political science professor Stanley Feldman, of Stony Brook University, said, “I’m not sure you can predict whether the Democrats in Albany will move to the right or left as a consequence of the election. I think they will take a close look at criminal justice issues since the Republicans seem to have made their gains at least partly on the basis of concerns over crime."
But there will be pressure from the progressives, too.
“We were able to turn out voters in every corner of the state,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, state director of the liberal Working Families Party. “Now Governor Hochul and our statewide leaders must act — and act swiftly — to deliver for the working New Yorkers and communities of color who carried them to victory … we’re ready to partner with our statewide leaders to chart a bold path forward.”
So far, Democratic leaders aren’t tipping their hand about how they will operate in the two-year period beginning Jan. 1.
“The issues that we take up are always determined by the members of the Assembly majority conference,” said Michael Whyland, spokesman for Speaker Heastie.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) said Tuesday “was a rough night overall in New York.” But he said the Senate Democrats did well to win 40 and maybe as many as 42 seats in a year in which Republicans were “stoking peoples’ fears” about crime.
“It was a tough climate, and there certainly were areas where it was particularly tough, like on Long Island, where Lee Zeldin — being from Long Island — juiced the numbers a bit,” Gianaris said.
He said he expects no change in how the Democrats legislate.
“We have always had a very unified conference, and we approach our problems as a family,” Gianaris said.
Republican leaders were buoyed by Tuesday’s results, but under Albany’s rules, the minority party, regardless of size, has little direct impact on legislation and spending. Republicans, however, can continue to use the bully pulpit to appeal directly to the public now through more members.
“We flipped several seats and will have Republicans representing districts Democrats have held for decades,” said Assembly Republican leader Will Barclay of Pulaski. “When we return to Albany in January, it will be with more members and a stronger voice.”