New York Democrats now hold solid majorities in both the State Senate and the Assembly. They have won at least 38 Senate seats, including all five based in Nassau County and one from Suffolk, a gain of seven seats statewide, with two races to be determined (Republicans are narrowly ahead in one and behind in the other).
At best, Republicans will have 24 seats in the next legislative session. That will leave Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), who has caucused with Republicans, in lonely and precarious isolation. Felder will probably seek a return to the Democratic conference.
This clean electoral sweep is indeed gratifying for Democrats, but going forward it also carries the burden of responsibility. Three guideposts would serve Democrats well in governing the state.
First, the State Senate’s Democratic majority should take a page from the Democratic Assembly’s playbook from 1974, when the party first won its majority. The Democratic Assembly was bold on bedrock party policy initiatives while politically protecting what it called its marginal members from districts tough for Democrats to win.
The Assembly’s Democratic majority learned to say no when the wish list of members from easy-to-win districts endangered members from not-so-easy-to-win districts. Meanwhile, Assembly Democrats aggressively drove home legislative victories on health care, education, criminal justice and economic development. Assembly Democrats effectively struck the right balance between policy and politics.
Second, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo can help. He can work with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to create the proper mix of sequencing and salience to craft the Democrats’ agenda. Sequencing of issues is important because Democrats would benefit from having each legislative victory enhance, not thwart, the political standing of Democrats in the eyes of voters. And salience would help the party build the governing muscle behind the issues voters care about.
Third, avoid significant as well as silly blunders because those will inevitably lead to divisive finger-pointing. In the State Senate, that means constant listening to conference members, so that the progressive urban core finds common ground with more moderate senators from Long Island, the mid-Hudson Valley and upstate.
If Democrats fail to follow those guideposts, New York Republicans might benefit from what Massachusetts voters have long done. They have elected socially moderate but fiscally conservative Republican governors to be checks on Democrats (that’s true from former Gov. Bill Weld to Gov. Charlie Baker, who was re-elected Tuesday in a landslide).
In politics, there are no final victories; the seeds of rebirth are usually planted in the ashes of defeat. In New York, Democrats hold their fate in their own hands.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political and strategic consultant at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.