Near the end of his life, a wheelchair-bound Gore Vidal was about to be interviewed by a documentary filmmaker. He sat with his head down, saying nothing to anyone.
To break the ice, one of the camera operators told Vidal, an acclaimed writer, that Vidal and his grandfather had served together in the Aleutian Islands, just off the coast of Alaska, during the Second World War. His grandfather told him he’d been so cold there that he was never able to feel warm again.
Vidal lifted his head, looked right into the cameraman’s eyes, and said, “My rage kept me warm.”
The constituents of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, and former state Senate majority leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau Republican, may not feel rage but they must feel betrayed in the wake of their federal corruption convictions. The governor has scheduled a special election for Tuesday, April 19, to fill Silver’s 65th Assembly District (AD) seat in lower Manhattan and is also expected to choose that date for the race to succeed Skelos in the 9th Senatorial District (SD). It covers much of southwest Nassau County.
The outcome in the 9th SD’s election will be much more consequential for the balance of power in Albany given that there is a 31-31 partisan split in the state Senate at the moment. Senator Skelos was the 32nd Republican in the chamber and had to leave the state Legislature upon his conviction, as did Assemblyman Silver. But Skelos also had a 33rd vote he could count on because there’s a Brooklyn state Senator who was elected as a Democrat, but caucused with the Republicans. Will Senator Simcha Felder continue to side with the GOP? Will the breakaway Democratic state Senators who periodically form alliances with the Republicans in that chamber return home to their Democratic roots, giving the Democrats outright control of the state Senate, if the 9th SD flips into the Democratic column?
Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) is generally seen as giving the Democrats their best chance to win in the 9th SD. A former federal prosecutor who worked on public corruption cases, Kaminsky has the type of resume which would seem to fit the current moment. Plus, Kaminsky was first elected to the state Assembly in 2014 so he has spent little time in Albany, another asset in this environment.
The Republicans will likely choose Assemblyman Brian Curran (R-Lynbrook) as its nominee in the 9th SD. Curran was the mayor of Lynbrook when he was elected to the state Assembly in 2010. Like Kaminsky, Curran is also an attorney and has a young family. In order to win, Assemblyman Curran will need to remind voters what happened in Albany the last time the Democrats controlled outright a New York City-dominated state Senate (e.g., 2009’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) payroll tax).
The Republican nominee, whomever he or she is, will face, however, political headwinds when former Senator Skelos and his son, Adam, are sentenced in early March. It’ll bring the case back into the headlines at precisely the wrong time for a would-be GOP successor. Moreover, whomever wins the 9th SD’s special election, has to gear up for a November 2016 re-election campaign because the victor is only entitled to finishing out the balance of Skelos’s two-year term.
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.