Will the curtain come down on GOP State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in 2014?

| lpenner@queenscourier.com |

Previously under the leadership of New York State Senate majority leader Dean Skelos Republicans added a 63rd seat to the State Senate, along with favorable gerrymandering.  This was designed to stay in power and protect as many incumbents as possible after the 2010 reapportionment.  Despite all this, Skelos may still face future oblivion in the 2014 general elections.  The recent announcement by GOP State Senator Charles Fuschillo, Jr. resigning his seat effective January 1, 2014 combined with another Long Island GOP State Senator Lee Zeldin who will run in the 1st Congressional District against incumbent Democrat Bob Bishop is trouble.  This forces Skelos to defend two more so called safe Republican seats.  Over time, the GOP has lost 10 State Senate seats from NYC, the Hudson Valley and upstate New York.  It has always been able to count on controlling all nine Long Island based seats.

Skelos inherited many of his problems from the previous GOP State Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno.  Bruno’s strategy of staying in power by cross endorsing Democrats provided short term temporary gains in building his majority to seven votes.  In the end, his long term strategy to stay in power was a failure. Under Bruno’s leadership, the GOP lost three seats when Senators Lorraine Hoffman (Onondaga), Pedro Espada (Bronx) and Olga Mendez (Manhattan) switched from Democrat to Republican and lost. On Bruno’s watch, the GOP also lost the seats of Republican Senators Guy Vellela (Bronx), Roy Goodman (Manhattan) Nicholas Spano (Westchester) and Mike Balboni (Nassau).  Only Balboni’s seat was recaptured by GOP State Senator Jack Martins

There are too many State Senators in their 70s or 80s.  They keep postponing retirements to GOP Senate leader Skelo’s maintain Republican control of the Senate.  In most cases, they have failed to help elect and groom any GOP Assembly members in overlapping districts to run for their seats. With no heir apparent, internal GOP polling shows that many of these seats will be lost once the Republican senators retire, rather than stand for reelection.

Based upon the New York State Board of Elections registration figures as of November 1, 2013, New York continues to evolve into an overwhelming Democratic bastion.  Out of 11,016,685 active voters, there are 5,441,544 Democrats versus 2,649,058 Republicans, 2,271,691 unaffiliated, 439,754 Independence Party, 146,379 Conservative, 42,972 Working Family, 21,086 Green and 4,221 other registered voters.  Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2,792,486 voters.  Republican State Senate majority leader Dean Skelos has good reason to be nervous about the future of his caucus.  There are just not enough registered Republicans left to maintain a majority of Senate seats in his favor. That is why he is dependent upon the support of the four member Independent Democratic State Senate caucus to remain in power.

In the past, former Republican State Senate majority leaders, the late Warren Anderson, Ralph Marino, and Joe Bruno cut deals with Democratic State Assembly Speakers Stanley Steingut, Stanley Fink, Mel Miller, Saul Weprin and Sheldon Silver. These political back room arrangements were a quid pro quo deal preserving the status quo. Each gave the other unlimited freedom to protect and expand their respective majorities in each legislative house they controlled.

There was a time when Republicans controlled a record 37 seats giving them a comfortable majority.  It was an era when NYC sent six GOP Senators to Albany including Guy Vellela (Bronx) and Roy Goodman (Manhattan). With the losses of Serf Maltese (2008) and Frank Padavan (2010) from Queens, only GOP Senators Marty Golden (Brooklyn) and Andrew Lanza (Staten Island) remain. Democrats come out of NYC controlling 22 of the other 24 State Senate seats. This makes it even more challenging for Dean Skelos to continue remaining Republican Senate majority leader in 2014.

Kings County Republican Party Chairperson Craig Eaton faced a challenge in reelection to his position last September from a candidate supported by Brooklyn GOP State Senator Golden.  As a result, remnants of the Kings County Republicans are engaged in a civil war for control.   It would not be surprising if Eaton returns the favor by running a candidate to challenge Golden.  This would force a Republican State Senate primary.  After all, vengeance is a dish best served cold.  Democrats smelling blood may finally convince an incumbent New York City Council or State Assembly member to challenge Golden in the General Election.  Long time Democratic incumbents such as NYC Councilmember Vincent Gentili or State Assemblymember Peter Abate, whose districts overlap with Golden would make instant credible candidates. Perhaps former NYC Council Finance Committee Chairperson Dominick Recchia will give up his uphill race against Staten Island/Brooklyn GOP Congressmember Michael Grimm to run against Golden.  Coming out of a Republican primary as a damaged candidate combined with changing demographics, favorable Democratic Party enrollment edge and real challenger with adequate funding, Democrats could be positioned to pick up this State Senate seat.

A review of the 2012 General Election results along with voter registration trends indicates Republicans could easily lose some of the following Senate seats they have historically held relegating them back to permanent minority status.  This includes Lee Zeldin (3rd – Suffolk); Jack Martins (7th – Nassau) who faced a minor league Democratic Party opponent with no name recognition or funding to run a real campaign.  Imagine if neighboring Democratic State Assemblymember Michelle Schimel rolled the dice and challenged Martin.  Marty Golden – (22nd – Brooklyn); William J. Larkin, Jr. (39th – Orange, Rockland & Ulster) and Greg Ball (40th – Putnam parts of Dutchess/Westchester) all face difficult tasks in winning another term.  Who knows if Ball will decide to run for Putnam County Executive instead of reelection to the Senate?

It will also be a challenge for the GOP to win in the following potentially competitive districts. In the 35th (Westchester), Democrat Ms. Andrea Stewart-Cousins defeated Republican State Senator Nicholas Spano in 2006.  She faced no GOP opponent in 2012.  In the 41st (Dutchess & Putnam), Democrat Terry W. Gibson defeated incumbant GOP State Senator Stephen W. Saland.  Winning back this seat will be difficult.  In the 53rd (Madison, Oneida & Onondaga), Democratic State Senator David J. Volesky faced no Republican opponent in 2012.  How do you defeat someone with no one? In the 46th (Montgomery, Albany & Schenectady), Democratic State Senator Cecilia F. Tkacyrk beat Republican George A. Amedore, Jr. by only 18 votes, 63,213 to 63,195.  It would make for a tough rematch in 2014. Ironically, this was the additional 63rd State Senate seat drawn and gerrymandered by Skelos and company to elect a Republican.

Any Democrat running for the State Senate in 2014 will have strong coat tails at the top of the ticket.  Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are all well positioned to easily win reelection. They have name recognition, the power and perks of incumbency along with plenty of money to run well financed campaigns. Don’t forget the well-oiled political action committees controlled by Senators Charles Schumer and his faithful sidekick, Kirsten Gillibrand.  Either or both could easily assist in fundraising and campaigning for any Democratic State Senate challengers giving them instant credibility. There are no realistic GOP challengers who have name recognition and the ability to raise millions of dollars necessary to mount a serious campaign for any statewide office in 2014.  Only former 2010 Republican candidate for Governor Carl Paladino is available. The GOP establishment is not enthusiastic about affording him another opportunity to run.  What Republican Congressmember or County Executive will want to be a sacrificial lamb in a hopeless cause against either Cuomo, DiNapoli or Schneiderman? That is why at the end of the day GOP Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino will not challenge Cuomo.  Who would be foolish enough to run against Cuomo, when he has already raised over $30 million for his re-election campaign? At the end of the day, Cuomo could end up raising another $30 million for a record total of $60 million.  Remember that Cuomo’s ego has a potential 2016 run for the White House in the back of his mind.

Former United States Senator Alfonse D’Amato (1981-1998), Governor George Pataki (1994-2006) and NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani (1993-2001) have become asterisks in political history.  They are no longer able to motivate significant numbers of Democrats or Independent voters to cast a ballot for Republican candidates.  Their old Play for Pay campaign contributors moved on years ago.  None can convince significant numbers of individuals or political action committees to make campaign contributions for candidates they endorse.  D’Amato, Pataki and Giuliani have collectively abandoned Skelos and company to fend for themselves.

The Republican State Senate campaign committee has historically raised more funds then its Democratic State Senate campaign committee counterpart. This could quickly change if Cuomo, Schumer, Gillibrand and the Democratic Party state leadership decide to become serious about gaining permanent control of the State Senate.  They could quickly assist Democratic State Senate candidates in raising millions, giving them the overwhelming financial advantage going into the 2014 general election.

Democrats could end up running the State Senate without needing any support from the four member “Independent Democratic State Senate Caucus.”

This year could represent the final nail in the coffin for the last Republican center of power.  The once powerful and relevant New York State Republican Party will become a permanent minority party no longer offering voters any options.