Naturally, the governor’s race already draws much of New York’s 2022 campaign coverage. And congressional elections bear watching for their national impact.
But as the season unfolds, observers would risk missing out if they ignore the scrum for the State Senate, especially on Long Island. These separate contests together could test how much of a pulse remains for New York’s long-shrinking Republican Party.
Right now, Democrats dominate Albany’s upper chamber, 43-20, a two-thirds majority. With the party’s lopsided 106-43 margin in the Assembly, that means lawmakers could override any governor’s veto in a party-line vote.
This dynamic is little noted in the campaign so far because vetoes and legislative fights come one hot issue at a time. But the next few years could bring increased ferment over criminal law, economic development, social services, and culture wars.
Democrats downplay the possible significance of losing two seats or more in November, and with it their supermajority, in the belief that the party will retain the governorship. A veteran Republican strategist insisted, however, that the two-thirds watermark can matter for Democrats regardless.
While it’s quite possible the Senate majority will lose suburban seats, it would take a more powerful statewide lurch to the right for Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ conference to dip below the 32 seats needed to control the chamber.
Imagine the unlikely scenario that a Republican wins the governorship while the Democrats keep two-thirds in the Senate. The new chief executive could veto Democratic initiatives, only to see them swept into law with an override vote.
“At best you’d be playing ping-pong in Albany,” the Republican strategist said.
Margins do matter. The bigger a majority, the less a leader needs every vote, which means suburban legislators could sometimes be let “off the hook” by leadership to oppose city-driven legislation unpopular in their districts.
Such votes can reverberate. In 2010, Long Island Sens. Craig Johnson and Brian Foley lost reelection after they were lashed to a Democratic-enacted payroll tax to aid the MTA.
Last year, the GOP successfully hyped Sen. Todd Kaminsky’s vote for reforms aimed to reduce mass incarceration, and defeated him for Nassau County district attorney.
This year, ex-Sen. Jack Martins, who’d unseated Johnson in that razor-thin race a decade ago, looks to unseat Democratic Sen. Anna Kaplan after the GOP won local races within her district.
Republicans could make an issue of Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, whom Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed from out of the Senate majority — specifically, the pending federal investigation into illegal campaign contributions to Benjamin’s failed 2021 campaign for New York City comptroller.
On Thursday, an upstate judge rejected new state district lines and ordered new maps drawn, pending an appeal. It is telling that in that lawsuit, Republicans initially challenged the Democrat-drawn State Senate and congressional lines — but not the Assembly’s. There, the margin is so wide that Speaker Carl Heastie saw fit to keep Republican incumbents’ seats largely intact in the map he crafted.
If the GOP manages to gain clout in Albany in the fall, newly created Senate seats on Long Island will probably play a big role.
Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.