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Bob Antonacci's bid to leave State Senate spurs domino talk

Republican State Sen. Bob Antonacci's decision to seek

Republican State Sen. Bob Antonacci's decision to seek a judgeship after less than a year in office has spurred speculation about whether other GOP senators may head for the exits. Credit: Craig Ruttle

ALBANY — It was set to be a routine judicial election in central New York.

But then a surprise candidate set off lots of chattering about the potential ripple effect in the State Senate and implications for state legislative races for 2020.

The surprise was Sen. Bob Antonacci (R-Syracuse) deciding to run for a state Supreme Court seat covering six counties in central New York. The candidacy is turning heads in political circles because Antonacci won his seat just last November. But with Republicans buried without power in the Senate minority, he’s looking to leave Albany after less than a year on the job.

A number of Republicans said they were watching to see if Antonacci’s decision triggers other retirements of GOP Senate veterans before next year’s elections.

“A half dozen wouldn’t surprise me,” said one longtime Republican who requested anonymity, adding it’s just as likely none will step down.

Other Republicans described themselves as frustrated with Antonacci’s decision.

Last year, Antonacci ran for an open seat — though the GOP had held for decades. Republicans spent more than $1 million on the race and barely won it, with Antonacci edging John Mannion by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent.

It was one of the few bright spots for the GOP in a dismal fall. They lost all the statewide races, three congressional seats and tumbled from a one-seat State Senate majority to a 17-seat deficit.

They entered 2019 with just 23 of the 63 Senate seats, and grappling with departures.

Veteran Cathy Young resigned in March after trying and failing to oust Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). Two senators, Robert Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) and Chris Jacobs (R-Buffalo), are running for a Western New York congressional seat, which was expected. Antonacci’s bid for another office was not.

The Young and Ortt districts are considered safely Republican. But other departures might force Republicans to spend money to defend open seats, rather than focusing solely on taking back seats.

In July, Flanagan told attendees at the state Republican convention he would spend a “very active summer recruiting candidates all across the state” for the 2020 elections.

Those campaigns are still a long way off. Republicans are hoping a good showing in this year’s elections — all of which are local races, including for Suffolk County executive — will be a springboard for a better Senate showing next year. And it might impact who decides to run for reelection at all.

“Everybody’s in a holding pattern right now,” said one Republican, citing the local elections, the chase for the Democratic presidential nomination and the agenda in Albany when the Legislature reconvenes in January as factors.

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