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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Senate’s Composition

The outcome of 59 of New York’s 62 state Senate contests were known definitively on Election Day, and the final results in the three unresolved races have extraordinary consequences for state government over the next two years.

Before the absentee ballots were opened, a process which continued into this week,  the Republicans appeared on the verge of winning two of three state Senate seats in question.  Mineola Mayor Jack Martins, GOP challenger to state Senator Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), held a 415-vote lead after the initial canvass of voting machines in the 7th Senatorial District (SD), which covers northern Nassau County.  Meanwhile, Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, the Republican nominee in western New York’s 60th SD, had 597 votes more than state Senator Antoine Thompson (D-Buffalo) before election officials in parts of Erie and Niagara counties opened the absentee ballots there.

Should Martins and Grisanti prevail, and are sworn into the state Senate in January, the Republicans would regain the majority in the state Legislature’s upper chamber, 32-30.  This scenario also works on the assumption that state Senator Suzi Oppenheimer’s (D-Mamaroneck) 524-vote lead over Bob Cohen of Scarsdale, her Republican rival, in the 37th SD, holds after the absentee ballots are counted in that Westchester County district, site of the third incredibly close state Senate election.

The Democrats will control state government’s executive branch for the next four years, following the victory of Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor-elect Robert Duffy.  And Democrats hold about 100 of the state Assembly’s 150 seats.  

The party holding a majority in either the state Assembly or the state Senate decides which legislators will chair key committees, what bills will come to the floor for a vote, and which lawmakers will represent their caucus when interacting with the other branches of government.

When it comes to the latter, it’ll be interesting to see if a GOP-controlled state Senate, if one materializes, returns state Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) to the majority leader’s post, a job he held for a few months in late 2008, after state Senator Joseph Bruno’s resignation. Once the Democrats won a state Senate’s majority in November 2008, Senator Skelos became that chamber’s minority leader.

A Republican re-taking of the state Senate would be all the more remarkable because of the way it was done.  State Senator Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who won a very close election in 2008, lost his re-election bid in the 11th SD this year to former New York City Councilman Tony Avella of Whitestone, a minor upset.  But an even bigger Democratic victory came in Rockland County, where county executive C. Scott Vanderhoef (R-Blauvelt) lost a race for the open seat in the 38th SD to 29-year-old David Carlucci, Clarkstown’s town clerk.  The 38th SD had previously been in the Republican column.

The other GOP pick-ups came via the ouster of state Senator Darrel Aubertine (D-Cape Vincent) in the 48th SD, a district covering parts of Jefferson, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties and in Suffolk County’s 3rd SD, where Lee Zeldin of Shirley unseated state Senator Brian Foley (D-Blue Point).

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: