Control of Senate Uncertain

Nov 7, 2012

Control of the State Senate is still up in the air, and could be for weeks. Democrats are claiming victory but  Republicans are not conceding,  they say they’re waiting until  the absentee ballots are counted.

Democrats say they have taken over the State Senate, by a narrow margin.

“Last night voters across New York made it clear they want their State Senate to be led by the Democratic Conference,” said Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, in a statement.

But Senate Republicans are not giving up on two very close races. One is for an open seat that Republicans  themselves created during redistricting. It was designed to capture GOP voters in the upper Hudson Valley and parts of the Mohawk Valley.  In that race, Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk currently leads Republican Assemblyman George Amedore by around 150 votes, with thousands of absentee ballots still to be counted.

And in the Hudson Valley, incumbent Senator Stephen Saland is behind his Democratic challenger Terry Gipson by around 1600 votes, also with absentee ballots uncounted.

But just because Democrats might win the majority of seats does not mean that their party will control the chamber.

Steve Greenberg, a spokesman for Siena College polls, and a political analyst, says the politics are going to get “even more complicated”.  He says it’s an “open question” who will ultimately run the Senate, even if Democrats hold on to their lead .

Siena surveyed key Senate races in the final days of the campaigns and found potential for a Democratic surge.

Though Democrats may numerically end up with more members than Republicans, four Democrats belong to their own break away conference, the Independent Democratic Conference, and often side with the Republicans.

The IDC issued a non committal statement, saying their members were happy to be re elected and “humbled” that so many New Yorkers support the conferences’  “policy-driven agenda”.  They said nothing about future governance of the Senate.

In addition, newly elected Brooklyn Senator- to- be Simcha Felder has said he might caucus with the Republicans. That could lead to weeks of internal wrangling for control of the Senate.

Governor Cuomo officially remained neutral about which party should control the Senate during the campaigns. He has a good track record of cooperation with the Senate Republicans. Besides same sex marriage, the GOP also agreed to Cuomo’s property tax cap and deep budget cuts.   

When Democrats controlled the Senate in 2009 and 2010,  they were often beset by chaos, including a coup attempt and a month long gridlock.

Greenberg says it’s in Governor Cuomo’s, as well as the Senators’ interests, to resolve the leadership question and be ready to govern come January. He says no one wants to see a “return to dysfunction”.

Before the issue of leadership of the Senate can be decided however, the remaining races need to be resolved. And that could take several more weeks.