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Democrats: We'll have veto-proof majority in State Senate

New York State Senate members meet in the

New York State Senate members meet in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany on Jan. 8, the opening day of the legislative session. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Democrats said Monday they soon will secure a supermajority in the State Senate, which will strengthen their hand in Albany after the party rolled up a string of victories with the help of a record-setting number of absentee ballots.

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), the majority leader, and Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said they were confident the count of absentees in a Westchester County race will turn Democrats’ way, giving them control of at least 42 of the 63 Senate seats.

That would give Senate Democrats a veto-proof two-thirds majority, which the party already has in the State Assembly.

A supermajority would give Democrats a stronger hand in negotiations with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who sometimes has accused the party of veering too far left, politically.

It also would give Democrats solid control of legislative redistricting — the redrawing of election districts based on the U.S. Census — for the first time in recent political history.

"The numbers prove that after the most productive legislative session in history, New Yorkers have not just chosen a Democratic majority again, but a supermajority," Stewart-Cousins said at a State Capitol news conference Monday.

But the addition of at least four new upstate members also broadens the Democratic conference geographically and politically, which could temper any push to the left.

Bruce Gyory, a former gubernatorial adviser, noted upstate representation will jump from five to either nine or 10 in the Democratic conference. That might have a moderating impact on a conference dominated by New York City representatives, he said.

"It will be a more balanced conference, both regionally and ideologically, Gyory said. "It won’t be a question of whether a moderate block will reject progressive goals but how do you shield some members while doing progressive things."

Gianaris said Republicans had tried unsuccessfully to oust a number of first-term Democrats by focusing on a law, approved in 2019, that eliminated bail for most misdemeanors.

"The opponents of bail reform took their best shot and they failed miserably," Gianaris said.

In the Westchester race, Sen. Pete Harckham (D-South Salem) trails Republican Rob Astorino, the former county executive and 2014 GOP gubernatorial nominee.

But Harckham has been garnering more than 70% of the absentees and there are 18,000 more to tally, which should push Harckham into the lead, Gianaris said.

Democrats also have a shot at picking up a seat in Syracuse, where vote counting has been stalled by the virus.

Cuomo downplayed the impact of a supermajority, saying it "doesn’t really make a difference."

Democrats largely agree on issues, Cuomo said, but aren’t a "monolith, they are not sheep."

However, the Senate and Assembly in 2019 passed legislation on some high-profile issues with little input from the governor, including teacher evaluations, offshore drilling, early voting and the statute of limitations on child molestation.

The 2020 campaign began with Democrats holding 40 seats to Republicans’ 23.

After Election Day, GOP leaders said they might have gained as many as four seats. But once counties began tabulating the record number of absentee ballots — many triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic — Republicans saw many of their leads disappear.

Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) didn’t dispute Democrats’ claim of a supermajority Monday, but said Republicans would have an "even louder voice" in Albany.

"If New Yorkers thought One-Party Control was bad, more Democrats in the New York State Senate will usher in a new era of radical, increasingly socialist policies, unlike anything before seen in this state," Ortt said in a statement.

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