New York State

Key labor unions endorse Democrats in Western New York

These four open state Senate seats could determine the state’s approach to economic recovery in 2021.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilente.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilente. AP/Shutterstock

It is looking increasingly likely that Democrats will flip four Republican-held state Senate seats in Western New York. Democrats have big advantages in fundraising, voter registration and now endorsements, as some of the biggest unions get behind their candidates.

The Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, which represents state and local employees, has announced its endorsements for all the Democratic candidates looking to replace outgoing Republican state Sens. Rich Funke, Joseph Robach, Chris Jacobs and Michael Ranzenhofer. All four senators had received the union’s backing in the past. The New York State AFL-CIO is also backing the Democratic candidates after previously supporting GOP incumbents in these districts.

“Folks are realizing who … they’re going to need from Albany – especially next year – when we’re thinking about how to continue dealing with the pandemic and how to rebuild,” Samra Brouk, who is running to replace Funke in a Rochester-based seat. The other Democratic candidates gaining union backing are Jeremy Cooney, Sean Ryan and Jacqualine Berger.

The support of organized labor, which has historically split its support at the state level between the two parties, adds a jolt of energy to Democrats’ efforts to flip the two seats they need to get a two-thirds supermajority in the 63-member state Senate. Such a development would tilt the balance of power away from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and toward the veto-proof state Legislature, with big implications for how the state deals with the economic damage of the pandemic.

The state faces a $14 billion deficit in the current fiscal year, which is expected to grow to $16 billion in the next fiscal year. With the talks about a new round of federal stimulus spending stalling in Congress, political power at the state level could take on an outsized importance moving forward.

Both state Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt and state Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy have expressed concerns about the implications of losing the four state Senate seats in Western New York as well as an open seat in the Syracuse area vacated by former state Sen. Robert Antonacci, who is now a state Supreme Court justice.

“Voters in Western New York have watched downstate Democrats advance a New York City-focused agenda at the detriment of families communities throughout upstate,” Ortt said. “It’s unfortunate that some labor organizations have embraced upstate candidates that will carry water for New York City progressives. Union members in these districts know that our candidates will fight for jobs, safe communities and much-needed investments in upstate infrastructure and education.”

Upstate New York is the one remaining bastion of power for the GOP in the state Legislature following big Democratic gains on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley in 2018.

Losing Western New York to the Democrats would also cost Republicans what little leverage they have in the upcoming round of legislative redistricting, which could relegate the GOP to a decade of being in the minority in the state Legislature.

For ordinary New Yorkers who are not obsessed with the ups and downs of the state’s political scene, the union endorsements are the latest sign that the state is moving further to the political left. With supermajorities in both chambers of the state Legislature, Democrats might be able to raise taxes on the wealthy and enact other progressive policies like single-payer health care over Cuomo’s opposition.

Whether such policies will solve the economic problems that await the state remains to be seen, but as things stand now, it is looking more and more likely that Democratic lawmakers are going to get the chance to try in January 2021.