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New York State Senate Control Still in Flux

photo of Steven Shepard
November 15, 2012

More than a week after the election, we still don't know who controls the New York state Senate.

Two races remain uncalled, one senator-elect already switched parties and the loyalties of four breakaway Democrats are in question. It's a potential repeat of what happened four years ago, after the 2008 elections, when three state senators attempted to hijack the chamber to force themselves into leadership roles.

Let's start in a new, conservative "Super Jewish" district in Brooklyn, where Simcha Felder won on the Democratic line last week but has already announced he will caucus with the Republicans, who held a narrow majority prior to the elections. That brings the GOP to 31 seats, one short of the 32 they will need to control the 63-seat chamber.

Democrats currently stand at 30 members, though they lead in two uncalled races. Democrat Terry Gipson leads GOP state Sen. Steve Saland in his Hudson Valley district by around 1,600 votes, Liz Benjamin reported for the YNN cable network. But there is a much closer race just to the north of the Saland seat: Election officials began recanvassing after Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk led GOP state Assemblyman George Amedore by only 139 votes after the initial count.

If Democrats prevail in both races, they will control a bare majority, 32 seats. Unless they don't.

The four-member Independent Democratic Caucus would become pivotal in such a scenario. The group's leader, state Sen. Jeffrey Klein, isn't tipping his hand. Wednesday's Buffalo News:

In his first interview since last Tuesday's elections, Klein offered no clue about which way the group is leaning. But he made one major vow that should send shivers up the spines of Senate Democrats.

"The only thing I'm prepared to say now is, we believe that the Independent Democratic Conference will be a permanent third conference within the New York Senate, and the Independent Democratic Conference will have a major role in shaping the policy agenda of this state," he told The Buffalo News.

In 2008, Democrats succeeded in picking off one member of the then-revolting caucus, reducing the so-called "Four Amigos" to three, but the IDC in comparison is likely to remain strong: One of the other members is Klein's girlfriend, Staten Island's Diane Savino.

Democratic leader John Sampson told NY1 on Wednesday that he plans to sit down with Klein soon. For his part, Klein has already met with the Republican leader, Dean Skelos. Negotiations with Skelos reportedly included policy demands and a potential leadership role for Klein, similar to the Gang of Three's demands in 2008-2009.

In the meanwhile, control of the chamber remains up for grabs. Democrats have a strong majority of seats in the state Assembly, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo remains Albany's most-popular figure (with difficult-to-hide national aspirations).

Former Gov. David Paterson thinks Cuomo will come out a winner no matter which party controls the state Senate, writing in Sunday's Albany Times Union that a Republican Senate would help Cuomo's economic agenda, while a Democratic majority would advance some of Cuomo's stalled social priorities, including an increase in the Empire State's minimum wage.

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