Who's vying for the 11 vacant state legislative seats?

Mike Groll
Assemblyman Francisco Moya

Who's vying for the 11 vacant state legislative seats?

A rundown of the state lawmakers who left vacancies in Albany – and who might replace them.
February 6, 2018

Election Day 2017 has come and gone, but with many elected officials moving on to other offices, there are plenty of vacancies that need to be filled. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order proclaiming special elections to be held for the 11 open legislative seats on April 24, and many races are already beginning to heat up. Here’s a look at the state lawmakers who were elected to another office and potential contenders for several of the seats.

STATE SENATE 

Ruben Diaz Sr. – Democratic state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., known for his signature cowboy hat and as the father of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., won the election for New York City Council’s District 18, which was left vacant by term-limited Annabel Palma. Diaz, who has served in the state Senate District 32 in the Bronx since 2002, easily beat several third-party candidates. The new city councilman’s successor in the state Senate is likely to be a Democrat, with 139,179 active Democrats registered in the Senate district, compared to only 6,662 active Republicans.  

The race to replace Diaz may lead to another vacancy in Albany. Gerson Borrero reported in City & State last May that Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda, a Democrat, was eyeing Diaz’s Senate seat, and Sepulveda formally declared in December. His campaign has over $233,000 in cash on hand as of January. Councilwoman Annabel Palma, another possible contender, may not make a bid for the seat, as she was recently named a deputy commissioner in the de Blasio administration. There is an active campaign committee filed with the New York Board of Elections for Palma, but it has not filed a January disclosure report. Pamela Stewart-Martinez and Elliot Quinones also have active campaign committees filed with the Board of Elections.

George Latimer – Then-state Sen. George Latimer knocked out two-term Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, and his victory prompted Astorino to call off any rematch against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2018. Latimer’s Hudson Valley state Senate seat in District 37 has been a battleground in the past – including in 2010, when Republican Bob Cohen fell just short against Suzi Oppenheimer, and in 2012, when Cohen lost to Latimer. Democrats have a sizeable enrollment advantage.

Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer was chosen as the Democratic nominee for the seat in a mini-convention held by county Democratic leaders in January. Former Rye councilwoman Julie Killian, who lost against Latimer in 2016, announced her bid for the Republican nomination this week, prompting fellow Republican candidate Sarmad Khojasteh to drop out of the race and endorse her. State Republicans see Killian as a strong candidate who could possibly flip the seat, but she still faces another Republican, former Yonkers inspector general Dan Schorr. Republican county leaders are set to pick their candidate on Feb. 7.

ASSEMBLY

Mark Gjonaj – Former Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj was elected to represent the New York City Council’s District 13 in the Bronx (left vacant by term-limited James Vacca). Now the first Albanian-American to be elected to the council, Gjonaj left the 80th Assembly District open. The successful contender to Gjonaj’s seat is likely to be a Democrat, with 44,007 active Democratic voters in the district, and only 5,433 Republicans.

Adam Bermudez, an aide to New York City Councilman Andy King who previously ran for the Assembly seat in 2012, has registered a campaign committee with the Board of Elections. Nathalia Fernandez, Gjonaj’s former chief of staff who now works as a Bronx regional representative for the governor’s office, has also been listed as a possible contender.

Al Graf – Republican Assemblyman Alfred Graf was successful in his campaign for a Fifth District Court judgeship in Islip. The Suffolk County lawmaker was first elected to the Assembly in 2010 and his district includes parts of his native Holbrook and Stony Brook. His Assembly district is narrowly divided between 24,179 active Democrats and 29,231 Republicans.

Doug Smith, a former aide to Graf, declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination in November, and his campaign has $25,000 in cash on hand. Local union leader Peter Zarcone is seeking the Democratic nomination.

Brian Kavanagh – Brian Kavanagh cruised to victory in a special election to replace former state Sen. Daniel Squadron, who resigned in the middle of his term. Kavanagh’s old Assembly district on Manhattan’s east side will likely to be filled by another Democrat, with 53,720 active Democrats and fewer than 8,000 Republicans.  

Mike Corbett, an aide to New York City Councilman Costa Constantinides and president emeritus of the New York State Young Democrats, is seeking the Democratic nomination. Housing activist Harvey Epstein is also a candidate in the race to fill Kavanagh’s empty Assembly seat.

Michael Kearns – Michael Kearns, a Democrat who ran on the GOP line, narrowly defeated Democratic candidate and former radio host Steve Cichon to fill the vacancy for Erie County clerk. In the Assembly, Kearns represented the 142nd District, which comprises parts of South Buffalo, Lackawanna, Seneca and Orchard Park. The next Assembly representative from the district is likely to be a Democrat, with 42,768 active registered Democrats compared to 20,416 Republicans.

Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke is seeking the Democratic nomination for this vacant seat.

Chad Lupinacci – Republican Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci defeated Democrat candidate Tracey Edwards and independent Michael Raspantini to become the supervisor of Huntington, a seat held by Frank Petrone for 24 years. Lupinacci left his seat of five years in the 10th District of the Assembly, which includes large portions of Suffolk County. The district has a Democratic registration advantage.

Steve McLaughlin – Republican Steven McLaughlin left the Assembly after winning the race for Rensselaer County executive. McLaughlin leaves a vacancy in the 107th Assembly District, which includes Rensselaer, Albany and Columbia counties. The district is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

Francisco Moya – Assemblyman Francisco Moya, a Queens Democrat, ran unopposed in the general election, winning a New York City Council seat held by Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who declined to run for reelection. The person to fill his shoes in the Assembly is likely to be a Democrat, thanks to a major voter enrollment advantage.

Catalina Cruz, the former chief of staff for Ferreras-Copeland and a Dreamer, is running for Moya’s vacant seat. But Aridia Espinal, a former aide to Moya who officially declared her candidacy on Monday, has already snagged an endorsement from Moya. Cruz has over $21,000 in cash on hand, while Espinal has a little over $33,000, including donations from Rep. Grace Meng and Assemblyman Brian Barnwell.

Pete Lopez – Former Republican Assemblyman Pete Lopez wasn’t elected to another office last fall – but he did step aside to become the regional administrator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency's region 2 in October. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Scott Pruitt named Lopez to the post for Region 2, which includes New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in September. Lopez’s seat in the 102nd Assembly District has since been vacant, and Republicans have the edge in active voters with  28,609, compared with 22,655 registered active Democrats.

Schoharie Town Supervisor Christopher Tague has been endorsed by district Republican committee leaders for the GOP nomination, although he has yet to formally announce his campaign. Aidan O’Connor Jr., a member of the Greene County Legislature, is the only declared Democratic candidate.

Thomas McKevitt – Republican Thomas McKevitt left his Assembly seat in the 17th District for a more local legislative seat on the Nassau County Legislature after defeating Democrat Eileen Napolitano. McKevitt will represent the 13th District of his native East Meadows on a seat left vacant by longtime GOP incumbent Norma Gonsalves. The district has a GOP advantage.

Meeran Karim
Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.
Tiffany S. Thomas
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