By Jamie Franchi, Rashed Mian and Timothy Bolger
Southwestern Nassau County voters have a fresh choice of New York State Senate candidates for the first time in three decades during a special election Tuesday to replace their disgraced former senator.
Freshman State Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), Republican attorney Christopher McGrath of Hewlett and Lawrence Seth Hirsh, an accountant from Valley Stream running on the Green Party line, are vying for the seat held for 30 years by Dean Skelos, the ex-State Senate Republican majority leader from Rockville Centre, until he was expelled from office upon his conviction on federal corruption charges in December. The election is the same day as New York’s Republican and Democratic presidential primaries, which is expected to impact turnout.
“I think it’s going to be a close race,” Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said. “I think we’ll either win by a couple or lose by a couple, and the determining factor will be not just the presidential primary turnout but also the drop off—meaning how many people come out to vote for president but choose not to vote in the State Senate special election. I think that’s going to be the deciding factor.”
Skelos’ and his son Adam’s conviction, which they are appealing, has catapulted ethics reform to the chief issue in the race. But, this being Long Island, education funding also is among the top issues the candidates are debating. The result of the race could help sway the balance of power in the State Senate, which is in GOP control with the help of six breakaway Democrats.
Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, backs banning outside income for lawmakers. McGrath, a first-time candidate, proposed setting eight-year term limits for state elected officials. Hirsh, who unsuccessfully ran for a Nassau County legislative seat last year, called for publicly financed elections. All three support stripping pensions from elected officials convicted of corruption.
Public education advocates have accused McGrath of supporting the expansion of charter schools, which the critics say siphons money from public schools. They point to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a pro-charter school political action committee, funding anti-Kaminsky campaign ads in the run up to the special election.
“Now he’s indebted to them,” said Jeannette Deutermann, an anti-Common Core activist, said, referring to McGrath. “What do you think’s going to happen when he gets into office?”
McGrath denies the allegations.
“I have not taken one dime from charter schools,” McGrath said. “I will never give one dime to charter schools at the expense of public schools.”
McGrath counters that if Kaminsky wins, he would help return the State Senate to a Democratic majority for the first time since 2009, when the legislature approved the controversial MTA Payroll Tax.
“If I lose this race, the balance of power will shift,” McGrath said. “The Senate should be maintained by Republican control.”
Regardless, the winner of the special election will only serve the remaining eight-and-a-half months of Skelos’ term and will be up for re-election in November. The current state legislative session ends in June, leaving the winner just two months to negotiate legislation, not including any special legislative sessions that may be called in the second half of the year.
The ninth State Senate district includes the southwest corner of Nassau from Elmont and West Hempstead to the North, Rockville Centre and Island Park to the east, the New York City line to the west and all of Long Beach Island to the south.