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Opinion

Editorial: NY Senate control will shape Long Island's future

The New York State Senate meets in the

The New York State Senate meets in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

Just how afraid should Long Islanders be of the Democratic Party taking control of the New York State Senate? In this campaign, it's begun to seem more and more that we should be very afraid.

Republicans say that if Democrats win outright at the polls, that party will run the state. Continued Democratic control of the Assembly is a given, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is a sure bet to win re-election. Even more worrisome, the GOP argues, is that lawmakers from New York City would dominate the Senate's Democratic caucus.

The Republicans, including all nine Long Island senators, share control of the chamber with several breakaway Democrats. It's possible after this election that the GOP won't be able to regain the majority or broker another deal to share power.

And the suburbs would be left with virtually no voice.

It's hard not to believe in that scenario. There has been almost no effort by top Senate and Assembly Democrats to allay those fears and assure suburban residents that their considerable concerns would be a priority.

In Albany, region can be more telling than party affiliation. Every Long Island candidate thinks we need more state aid for schools and that Common Core was rolled out poorly. There are no hugely divisive issues, like a property tax cap or same-sex marriage, on the table. But party affiliation matters greatly when candidates fight for their districts.

The last time Democrats gained the majority in the Senate, winning 32 of 62 seats in the 2008 election, Long Islanders got a new payroll tax to help fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a huge and unfairly targeted cut in school aid. And the two newly elected Democrats who voted for that tax in 2009, Brian Foley and Craig Johnson, were defeated in 2010 as Republicans took back the chamber.

Unless Republicans can quickly attract minorities, the trending demographics guarantee a Democratic Senate majority eventually. But they don't guarantee it forever. Minorities and immigrants, as they move up the economic ladder, often become suburbanites. If the Democrats ignore their needs, these strivers will become Republicans again, just as they did in the postwar migration from New York City.

How much should the fear of a city-dominated Senate determine whom Long Island voters support? It's generally wise to support the best individuals, regardless of party. But the Democrats, having left six of the nine Long Island Senate seats practically uncontested, don't do much to bolster the argument that the party's Senate leaders care about Long Island.

Whoever is elected, and whichever party rules, our representatives must fight unabashedly for Long Island. They'll need to battle for our water and environment, schools, economic development and infrastructure. Between the obvious needs of New York City and economic challenges upstate, suburbs like Long Island are often ignored, like the well-behaved child in a troubled family. But we do have needs, and we need senators who can make sure they're tended to.

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