The outcome of the special election to fill former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ open seat depends on which candidate you ask.
Democratic Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky declared victory, despite holding just a 780-vote lead in the unofficial tally, while his Republican rival, Chris McGrath, said the Long Island race was too close to call. The candidates are running to replace Skelos, who was convicted on corruption charges last year, and the winner could tip the balance of power in the state Senate, where neither party has an outright majority.
According to the latest election results from the Nassau County Board of Elections website and with 100 percent of precincts reporting, Kaminsky has 49.96 percent of the vote while McGrath has 48.82 percent. Last week, a Siena College poll found McGrath leading by a comfortable 8 percent margin.
In total, 33,978 Senate District 9 residents voted for Kaminsky and 33,198 voted for McGrath. Kaminsky’s victory margin of 780 votes is narrow enough that McGrath is calling for absentee ballots to be counted.
But that didn't stop Kaminsky claiming victory to a crowd of raucous supporters gathered at a sports bar in his hometown of Long Beach.
“The ‘T’ in my name wasn’t for taxing, it was for ‘I told you so!’ We came down to the wire. We pulled this out,” Kaminsky said. “When we started this campaign, I promised you I’d fight as hard as I could and together we’d send a message to Albany. I told you we’d stand together. We’ll say that we won’t stand for putting special interests before Long Island interests.”
Earlier in the evening, McGrath insisted the race was too close to call, and the Republican candidate has not conceded.
“I just want to thank everyone who’s participated in this campaign … we expected this to be close. It is going to be too close to call tonight and hopefully when everything is counted, we’re going to prevail,” McGrath said. “I wish I could come down here and celebrate, but it’s just too close to call. We need to wait for the absentee ballots.”
According the Nassau County Board of Elections, 1,289 registered Republicans requested absentee ballots. As of early Tuesday afternoon, 774 had been returned. For registered Democrats, 1,540 absentee ballots were requested and 941 had been returned.
There were 321 blank ballots requested as well, and 143 of them had been returned.
McGrath watched the election results roll in separately from reporters, who waited in an empty room at the Nassau County Republican Committee building. State Sens. Jack Martins, Carl Marcellino and Cathy Young were among McGrath’s supporters who joined him behind closed doors. They did not stop to speak with reporters.
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who replaced Skelos last year, also arrived to show his support for McGrath.
“Chris McGrath has been a fabulous candidate. We’re very proud of how he has run his campaign and how he’s represented the people of Long Island,” Flanagan said. “We’re at a juncture where we have to wait. I don’t think anyone could come out screaming victory at this juncture and we’re certainly not going to do that.”
This race has been closely watched by New York politicos because the results could have huge consequences for the state Legislature, given the narrow majority Republicans currently have in the state Senate.
If Kaminsky is elected, it weakens the state Senate Republican conference’s hold on its majority. Of the 63 seats in the state Senate, Republicans currently hold a 31-member majority, with state Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who conferences with Republicans.
Democratic state Sen. Michael Gianaris said Kaminsky’s victory bodes well for state Senate Democrats in the fall, when they’ll try to pick up more seats to regain a full majority.
“If we can win a special with Donald Trump beating the snot out of every corner of the state, hopefully in November we’re going to win more seats,” Gianaris said. “The people on election night who are saying it’s too close to call are the people who are losing the election. They know it, we know it.”
Jay Jacobs, chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Party, agreed and said he felt confident Kaminsky’s victory would hold up, though he acknowledged that the race may not officially be called for a few weeks.
Jacobs told City & State Kaminsky performed strongly in Long Beach, his hometown, and was also strong in Elmont, Valley Stream and Baldwin. McGrath did better in West Hempstead and Lynbrook and the Five Towns, while Oceanside was a "battleground.”
While the totals will change somewhat based on absentee ballots, Jacobs said that the Kaminsky campaign had taken into account how many had been sent to Democratic voters and how many were sent to Republicans.
"I don't think it'll come down to that because Democrats and Republicans, we're up in the absentee ballots," Jacobs said. "It is pretty decided."