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Philip Boyle-Ricardo Montano race in Suffolk seen as key

Assemblyman Philip Boyle, left, and County Legislator Ricardo

Assemblyman Philip Boyle, left, and County Legislator Ricardo Montano, center, both listen to a question read from a selected group of community representatives during a candidate forum for State Senate District 4 at the Brentwood Public Library in Brentwood. (Oct. 10, 2012) Credit: Daniel Brennan

Control of the State Senate -- and the fate of several high-profile issues -- hinges in part on the outcome of a fierce race for an open seat in Suffolk County.

Assemb. Philip Boyle (R-Bay Shore) and County Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) are vying to succeed Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon), who is retiring after 40 years representing the district in southwestern Suffolk County.

The contest is one of eight that Democrats say will determine which party controls the chamber. Republicans now hold a 33-29 advantage in the Senate, the one area of state government the GOP controls. One new district was created under a redistricting plan this year, meaning that 63 seats are up for grabs on Election Day.

Boyle, 51, says the race is about continuing the trend of the last two years, when the Republican-led Senate worked with Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to pass the state's historic property-tax cap and partially roll back the MTA payroll tax.

"This state is headed in the right direction now and we don't want to turn back the clock," Boyle said. He also said Long Island schools would lose out on state education aid if a New York City-centric Democratic conference takes over the chamber.

"If we lose this seat, we'll likely lose control of the majority in the State Senate," Boyle said recently in an online message to supporters. "The last time the city-led Democrats were in charge, they raised taxes and spending by $14 billion. We can't let that happen again."

Montano, 62, said that he supports those tax initiatives, too, and that Republicans are blocking ideas such as raising the minimum wage, strengthening women's reproductive rights and passing stronger gun-control laws. He said Boyle is using "New York City" as a bogeyman.

"He's running this fear-and-prejudice campaign against New York City," Montano said. "The idea that Long Island is going to be raided is just untrue."

For decades, the 4th Senate District has been an easy win for Republicans as Democrats rarely made strong runs against Johnson -- even though voter enrollment is split. Current Board of Elections figures show 61,629 active Democrats, 59,445 active Republicans and 43,952 nonaffiliated voters.

But Boyle has a huge fundraising advantage.

Records show that Boyle has raised $373,000 since July 15. Montano raised about $72,000 during that period. The Republican Party has spent an additional $90,000 on his behalf.

"The key to this race is financing," said Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, a retired Democratic state assemblyman from Long Beach who now works as a lobbyist. "It's a seat the Republican leadership very much wants to keep and they have unlimited funds to put into this race."

Kremer said Montano, along with backing from the state teachers' union, has factors in his favor that normally help Democrats: 31 percent of district residents are members of minority groups and it's a presidential-election year, which normally spurs high Democratic turnout. For instance, 66,000 people cast votes in the district in 2010 compared to 102,000 in 2008.

Political analyst Bruce Gyory, an adjunct professor at the University at Albany, said Boyle's environmental record -- he received 91 out of 100 on this year's Environmental Planning Lobby scorecard and was endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters -- could help him with swing voters.

"What looked on paper like an excellent Democratic opportunity to pick up a seat long held by Republicans has proved a tougher nut to crack with the nomination of a moderate Republican with strong environmental credentials," said Gyory, once a consultant to former Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

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