LI Holds The Key To State Senate’s Makeup

Barry_weekly_061314New York looks much different from upstate, especially when it comes to the general public’s knowledge of, and interest in, state government and politics.

I bring this observation back to a Nassau audience after spending a few days recently in Bolton Landing, a picturesque community on Lake George, about 70 miles north of Albany. Yes, the locale’s proximity to the state’s capital may explain their greater awareness of what the governor and state lawmakers are doing. Yet there is a sense among millions of New Yorkers that the fortunes of upstate are too often driven by downstate policymakers with little sense of how they live their lives. They’re not far off the mark. The governor grew up in Queens and is registered to vote in Westchester, the state Senate’s co-leaders are from Nassau and the Bronx, and the state Assembly Speaker represents a lower Manhattan district.

My media diet while in Bolton Landing consisted in the morning of The Saratogian, a daily newspaper, and it chronicled controversial matters a downstate audience rarely hears about. Indeed, one day, on the same page The Saratogian featured an article and photo depicting a standing-room-only crowd protesting New York’s SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act, a hastily enacted state gun control law which is wildly unpopular upstate, alongside a story on Save East Greenbush, a group fighting the placement of a casino in that Capital District municipality. These two public policy centerpieces of the “new” New York have decidedly limited appeal upstate.

At night, I watched Time Warner Cable’s Albany-based Capital Tonight, a terrific public affairs program which featured something rarely aired on a weekday evening on a downstate television station: two state Senators talking about their priorities in the current legislative session’s waning days. It is scheduled to conclude on Thursday, June 19.

Given the comparatively scant downstate media coverage accorded to Albany matters, many Long Islanders cannot fully appreciate the pivotal statewide role they’ll play in November when filling the seats of former state Senator Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) and soon-to-depart state Senator Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is vying to oust U.S. House Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-Southampton) in the fall.

The Republicans have nominated county Legislator Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) to succeed Fuschillo and Islip Town Councilman Anthony Senft (R-Great River) to keep Zeldin’s seat in the GOP column. The Democrats have tapped county Legislator Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) to take on Venditto, and Adrienne Esposito, an environmental activist from Patchogue, to challenge Senft.

The composition of the 63-member New York State Senate is significant because Democrats have since 2011 controlled the state’s executive branch and the state Assembly. In short, the state Senate is, today, the only Albany institution where the voices of upstate and suburban elected officials can be heard above the din of lawmakers from the city’s five boroughs.

The 2012 election results gave the Democrats a numerical majority in the state Senate, but state Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his fellow Republicans, along with a handful of breakaway Democrats, led by state Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), have governed the state Legislature’s upper chamber since then.

Klein’s formation of what’s known as the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) has earned him a Democratic primary this September against former state attorney general Oliver Koppell. State Senator Tony Avella (D-Queens), another IDC member, is also likely to face a Democratic primary contest later this year, perhaps from former city comptroller John Liu.

Disenchanted registered Democrats could also be found at the Working Families Party’s (WFP) nominating convention, where Zephyr Teachout, a 42-year-old Fordham law professor, unsuccessfully tried to wrest the WFP’s gubernatorial nomination from the governor.
“…Teachout’s last-minute candidacy was rejected after Governor Andrew Cuomo promised [WFP] party leaders he would throw his might behind flipping the State Senate into Democratic hands,” according to Capital New York.com.

Having seen the animosity toward the Cuomo administration’s policies upstate, such a scenario, if it comes to pass, is great news for Republican state Senate candidates running in districts north of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. MFBarry@optonline.net

Mike Barry
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. He can be reached at mfbarry@optonline.net. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.

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