Battleground Long Island: Power In Play This Election Day

The New York State Capitol in Albany. (Shutterstock)

While Democrats hope to recapture a Congressional majority to block President Trump’s agenda this Election Day, Long Island could play a pivotal role in potentially flipping the Republican-led New York State Senate.

Some of LI’s nine state Senate districts are in play, experts say, casting doubt on the GOP’s current one-vote majority — control currently hinging on a lone Democratic senator that votes with the Republicans. And if six ex-members of the recently disbanded GOP-aligned Independent Democratic Conference losing September primaries amid record turnout is any indication, the predicted blue wave may wash Republicans out of state Senate leadership. It would be the first time in a decade that the Democrats controlled the state’s upper legislative chamber, where Republicans are the lone check on Democratic power in state government.

“Anyone who cares about the future of New York State should be scared to death,” State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Northport) wrote in an email to supporters shortly after the September primaries. “If the Democrat socialists running for Senate succeed in November, no one will be around to protect hard-working taxpayers. Our Senate majority has never been more important than it is today. We are the leaders and the last line of defense.”

Republicans have been reminding voters that the last time the Democrats controlled the state Senate, they enacted the unpopular MTA payroll tax. The move prompted voters to restore the GOP’s state Senate majority after two years of Democratic control.

Out of 63 state Senate seats on ballots next month, a City & State analysis pegs four as toss ups. Three are in Nassau County. Two are held by Republicans and one by a Democrat.

There’s a rematch between 23-year incumbent state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and Democratic Suffolk County Water Authority Chairman James Gaughran, who lost by one percent in 2016. Freshman state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) faces a challenge from Democratic Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan. And Republican Massapequa Park Village Mayor Jeff Pravato is challenging two-term state Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa), who’s defending a seat in a GOP-leaning district.  

In Suffolk, also closely watched is the race to replace retiring state Sen. Tom Croci (R-Bohemia). State Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) and Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) are facing off in the 3rd Senate District. Active Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by about 8,000 in the district, according to the state Board of Elections.

Hot-button issues likely to be debated in next year’s legislative session include proposals to legalize recreational marijuana, create single-payer health care, and codify abortion rights — especially given Democratic fears that Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court could help conservatives overturn Roe v. Wade. But Democratic leaders argue that giving their party control of the state Senate will help New York State push back on Washington, D.C.

“This is not about Democrat, Republican politics,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who’s seeking a third term against Republican upstate Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. “This is about who we are as a country and what we believe … And we have a different vision from Washington.”

As for Congress, the Democrats need to flip 24 seats to regain a majority in the House of Representatives and two seats to get control of the U.S. Senate. Of LI’s five congressional districts, The Cook Political Report, a nonprofit election forecaster, reports that two are competitive.

One is in the Island’s East End swing district, where two-term U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) faces Democratic businessman Perry Gershon. The other is U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) running for his 14th term against Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley, who made national headlines when the Federal Elections Commission unprecedentedly allowed her to use campaign funds to pay for child care while she’s on the trail.

But reports of Democrats having momentum on their side this cycle hasn’t dissuaded the GOP from trying to unseat Democratic incumbents. Ameer Benno, a Republican attorney challenging two-term U.S. Rep Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), says Democrats flipping the House would be unproductive.

“All they’re going to bring, if the House goes to the Democrats, is obstruction, rancor…and more of the same,” he says.