ALBANY -- Today's primary elections begin a remake of New York's legislature given an unusually high number of retirements and the challenges against three Republican senators who voted to legalize gay marriage in 2011.
But Republicans and Democrats don't expect a heavy voter turnout, making predictions difficult. The primary usually held on Tuesdays was moved to Thursday in observance of the Sept. 11 anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Low turnout tends to favor incumbents and other candidates with established campaign teams and fundraisers. But the primary turnout could be so small, the result will come down to whichever candidate can motivate voters to go to the polls.
Overall, more than 20 of 150 Assembly members and four of 62 senators retired or resigned this term, creating an unusually large number of races without incumbents.
State Conservative Party chairman Michael Long has made good on his promise to challenge Republican state Sens. Mark Grisanti of Erie County, Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie, and Roy McDonald of Saratoga County.
The three Republicans who voted to legalize gay marriage in June 2011 broke from their Republican majority conference and made the difference in the landmark legislation pushed by Democrats.
At a contentious debate Tuesday night, McDonald said he voted "with his heart," and stood up to "bigotry and hatred." "I did what I thought was the right thing to do," he said. "Everyone has the same rights to pursue happiness in this country."
His opponent, Saratoga County Clerk Kathleen Marchione, has campaigned on the idea that McDonald betrayed constituents by saying he was opposed to gay marriage but ultimately voting in favor. She called McDonald's change of conscience "suspicious."
In Buffalo, Grisanti is getting attacked for his gay marriage vote, but there are many issues swarming in the 60th Senate District, which is also drawing a Democratic primary. Grisanti faces Kevin T. Stocker for the Republican line, while Democrats Michael Amodeo and Alfred Coppola face off to take on the Republican winner in November.
In the 43rd District that includes Saratoga County, McDonald, who has served two two-year terms, has the support of longtime county GOP cThe primary also brings another chapter to the effort by the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate. The four-member group that broke from the traditional Democratic conference it said wasn't effective and was tainted by partisan gridlock from 2008-2010 has supported a few Democrats.
The IDC has steered campaign funds to Shawn Morse in Albany County's 46th Senate District over 15-year incumbent Neil Breslin. But days ago, Breslin was endorsed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his support of some of the governor's initiatives.
Two incumbents in scandals are also facing voters.
Sen. Shirley Huntley is in a 10th District primary in Queens as she faces an indictment that accuses her and her associates of improperly obtaining and using state grants. She faces City Council James Sanders, whose council district and political base is within the newly drawn Senate district.
Assemb. William Boyland Jr. is accused in a Manhattan indictment in a corruption case. The Democrat faces six challengers in his primary.