An updated guide to the 2018 state Senate elections

Exterior of the New York State Capitol in Albany
Exterior of the New York State Capitol in Albany
Nigar Alizada / Shutterstock
Exterior of the state Capitol in Albany.

An updated guide to the 2018 state Senate elections

The races that could determine the balance of power in the New York state Senate.
May 3, 2018

With Democrats holding onto two state Senate seats in last month’s special elections, attention and resources are shifting to the general election that could shift the balance of power in Albany's upper house. Although Senate Democrats regained their numerical majority and the Independent Democratic Conference is back in the fold, state Sen. Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat, still gives the Republicans a one-seat majority in the 63-seat chamber by caucusing with the GOP – which he says he’ll continue to do at least through the end of the state legislative session in June.

Flipping just one net seat from red to blue in November would put Democrats in control of the entire state government for the first time since 2010. Meanwhile, fending off election threats in what is shaping up to be a difficult year is critical to state Senate Republicans maintaining the party’s only hold on statewide power.

In the latest City & State Political Report, our analysis finds that 10 seats are currently in play – or 11 counting the potential for post-election maneuvering involving Felder. Of the 10 seats up for grabs at the polls, only two are held by Democrats. This could spell trouble for the Republican-controlled state Senate if New York rides what some are calling a national blue wave across that has national GOP leaders worried. Some observers viewed Democrat Shelley Mayer’s decisive state Senate victory in last month’s special election a referendum on the extent of suburban dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump. A recent national poll shows Democratic engagement slipping, though, and November is still a long way away.

Both parties are already making moves. In late April, three Republican state senators announced that they would not seek re-election – John DeFrancisco, Kathy Marchione and John Bonacic – although our analysis only considers one of the seats as in play. In early May, Tom Croci and William Larkin also announced that they would not run again, bringing the number of open GOP seats to five. These seats could also be highly competitive. 

Despite the reunification of the IDC with the mainline Democrats, some former IDC members – like David Valesky and David Carlucci – could also be vulnerable to primary and general election threats, although it’s too early to tell. Similarly, Republicans like George Amedore, Phil Boyle, Chris Jacobs and Terrence Murphy could find themselves in competitive races, should strong challengers emerge.  

Of course, a lot can and will change in the six months before the election – and we’ll be updating this report periodically as other lawmakers resign, new candidates jump in, and endorsement and fundraising numbers roll in.

As it stands right now, here is our rundown of state Senate races to watch in the fall.

SAFE DEMOCRAT (29)

Joseph Addabbo Jr., Marisol Alcantara, Tony Avella, Jamaal Bailey, Brian Benjamin, Neil Breslin, David Carlucci, Leroy Comrie, Martin Dilan, Michael Gianaris, Jesse Hamilton, Brad Hoylman, Brian Kavanagh, Timothy Kennedy, Jeffrey Klein, Liz Krueger, Shelley Mayer, Velmanette Montgomery, Kevin Parker, Jose Peralta, Roxanne Persaud, Gustavo Rivera, James Sanders, Diane Savino, Luis Sepulveda, Jose Serrano, Toby Ann Stavisky, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, David Valesky

LIKELY DEMOCRAT (1)

DISTRICT 9

Incumbent: Todd Kaminsky (D)
County: Nassau
Republican challenger: N/A
Democratic challenger: N/A
Last election: Kaminsky 51.71 percent, Christopher McGrath 47.29, Laurence Hirsh 1 percent
2016 presidential election: Clinton +8.3
Voter registration: 94,403 active Democrats, 73,197 active Republicans

Todd Kaminsky entered office in a 2016 special election to replace former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who left amid corruption charges. He won a competitive race in April of 2016 against both Christopher McGrath, a Republican. Kaminsky increased his margin of victory slightly in November when he faced off against McGrath in the general election, but the race was still close and he could face some opposition if a strong Republican throws his hat in the ring against the first-term senator. As of now, however, Kaminsky is running unopposed, and any candidate would have to play a lot of catch up to compete against his campaign finances. He has about $468,000 on hand, according to his latest filing.

LEAN DEMOCRAT (1)

DISTRICT 8

Counties: Nassau and Suffolk
Incumbent: John Brooks (D)
Republican challenger: Gary Slavin, Jeff Pravato 
Democratic challenger: N/A
Last election: Brooks 50.11 percent, Michael Venditto 49.89 percent
2016 presidential election: Clinton +2.8
Voter registration: 84,845 active Democrats, 74,172 active Republicans

The district has elected a new senator in both the last two elections since Republican Charles Fuschillo chose not to seek re-election in 2014. In that year, Republican Michael Venditto picked up the seat, which he lost in 2016 to John Brooks by less than a percent. Brooks is in a good position since he managed to defeat an incumbent and flip a seat that has been red for decades. But his margin of victory was razor thin, and he risks becoming the latest in a series of quick turnovers. Jeff Pravato may be a strong opponent against Brooks as the mayor of Massapequa Park since 2013 and the pick of the Nassau Republican executive committee. Gary Slavin has a history of community engagement. Neither has filed a campaign finance report yet, while Brooks has about $106,000 in his chest according to his most recent filing.

TOSS-UP (1)

DISTRICT 7

elaine-phillips-ny-senate.jpg

New York Senator Elaine Phillips
Alt Text: 
New York Senator Elaine Phillips
Title Text: 
New York Senator Elaine Phillips
Caption: 
State Sen. Elaine Phillips
Description: 
New York Senator Elaine Phillips
Image Credit: 
Courtesy New York Senate
County: Nassau
Incumbent: Elaine Phillips (R)
Republican challenger: N/A
Democratic challengers: Brad Schwartz, Anna Kaplan
Last election: Phillips 51.26 percent, Adam Haber 48.74 percent
2016 presidential election: Clinton +12.8
Voter registration: 87,591 active Democrats, 63,296 active Republicans

Elaine Phillips is a freshman state senator who succeeded former Republican state Sen. Jack Martins when he chose not to seek re-election in 2016. Democrat Brad Schwartz is outraising Phillips, according to the most recent campaign filings. He raised  $123,171.55 for a closing balance of $105,758.28, while she raised $74,513.35 for a closing balance of $70,081.06. Anna Kaplan is a second term North Hempstead councilwoman who just received an endorsement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the weekend at a campaign rally. State Sen. Mike Gianaris, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, also attended the rally. Given the impressive fundraising on the part of Schwartz, Democratic interest in Kaplan and Phillips’ narrow victory for her first term in office, the race is shaping up to be a competitive one.

LEAN REPUBLICAN (1)

DISTRICT 5

Counties: Nassau and Suffolk
Incumbent: Carl Marcellino (R)
Republican challenger: N/A
Democratic challenger: James Gaughran
Last election: Marcellino 50.6 percent, Gaughran 49.4 percent
2016 presidential election: Clinton +3
Voter registration: 77,226 active Democrats, 72,256 active Republicans

State Sen. Carl Marcellino has held his seat for 23 years. However, he had a razor-thin margin of victory 2016 of only 1.2 percentage points. Gaughran, the Suffolk County Water Authority chairman who nearly beat Marcellino two years ago, is running again. In what could possibly be a boon for Gaughran as well is the fact the district pivoted in the 2016 presidential election. It was carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, but was carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Additionally, Steve Stern managed to flip the 10th Assembly District blue for the first time in 40 years in his special election. That district heavily overlaps with SD 5. Gaughan has yet not filed a campaign finance report for his current campaign committee, but Marcellino has about $65,000 in his chest based on his most recent filing.

LIKELY REPUBLICAN (6)

DISTRICT 3

County: Suffolk
Incumbent: Tom Croci (R)*
Republican challengers: Dean Murray, Andrew Garbarino
Democratic challenger: Darrin Green
Last election: Croci 58.06 percent, John DeVito Jr. 40.74 percent
Presidential election 2016: Trump +6
Voter registration: 64,337 active Democrats, 56,376 active Republicans

After months of speculation and hints, state Sen. Tom Croci has officially announced he will not seek re-election, instead returning to the Navy. The names of several potential Republican challengers have been tossed around, including Assemblymen Andrew Garbarino and Dean Murray, who both told Newsday they will run. Suffolk County Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer as thrown his support behind Darrin Green, a law enforcement professional and community organizer who entered the race before Croci announced. According to Newsday, Schaffer in January said the district would be the “number one targeted race” for Democrats if Croci left.

DISTRICT 6

County: Nassau
Incumbent: Kemp Hannon (R)
Republican challenger: N/A
Democratic challengers: Andrew Grover, Kevin Thomas
Last election: Hannon 53.87 percent, Ryan Cronin 46.13 percent
2016 presidential election: Clinton +2.7
Voter registration: 81,229 active Democrats, 73,578 active Republicans

Based purely on numbers, state Sen. Kemp Hannon may have some vulnerability come November. He did not win a landslide victory in 2016 and his district was carried by Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. However, Hannon has held his seat for decades, having first been elected in 1989. Ryan Cronin, who also ran against Hannon in 2012, has not filed to run this year and has given no indication that he will. Neither of the two Democratic challengers has filed a campaign finance report yet, while Hannon has nearly $275,000 in his chest, according to his most recent filing.

DISTRICT 22

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New York Senator Martin Golden.
Alt Text: 
New York Senator Martin Golden.
Title Text: 
New York Senator Martin Golden.
Caption: 
State Sen. Martin Golden.
Description: 
New York Senator Martin Golden.
Image Credit: 
Omahautah / Wikimedia Commons
County: Kings
Incumbent: Martin Golden (R)
Republican challenger: N/A
Democratic challengers: Andrew Gounardes, Ross Barkan
Last election: Ran unopposed
2016 presidential election: Trump +0.7
Voter registration: 76,015 active Democrats, 32,853 active Republicans

State Sen. Martin Golden was first elected in 2002, flipping a long-held Democratic seat to Republican and becoming one of New York City’s few Republican lawmakers. Despite a history of controversial behavior, Golden has easily won re-election year after year, including his last race without any challengers. But he is still a Republican in a majority Democratic district in a strongly liberal city, so a strong challenge from the left might be enough to unseat him. Two Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to take on Golden in the general. Andrew Gounardes previously ran against Golden in 2012, and is now coming back for round two, while Ross Barkan is making the switch from journalism to politics. Golden comfortably leads the fundraising game with nearly $549,000 in his campaign chest, while Gounardes and Barkan trail with about $104,000 and about $53,000, respectively.

DISTRICT 39

Counties: Rockland, Orange and Ulster
Incumbent: William Larkin (R)*
Republican challenger: Tom Basile
Democratic challenger: N/A
Last election: Larkin 52.87 percent, Christopher Eachus 47.13 percent
2016 presidential election: Trump +3.5
Voter registration: 65,669 active Democrats, 51,595 active Republicans

Despite initially insisting the he would not retire, state Sen. William Larkin has now done just that. Although unlike in every other vacated Republican state Senate seat, the GOP already has a candidate ready to go. Tom Basile, a Stony Point councilman, had already been campaigning and fundraising in the anticipation of Larkin’s retirement. He has already raised nearly $130,000 in the second half of 2017. As of now, he has no Democratic challenger, but Assemblyman James Skoufis is considered a potential candidate.

DISTRICT 41

Counties: Dutchess and Putnam
Incumbent: Sue Serino (R)
Republican challenger: N/A
Democratic challengers: David Zwierankin, Karen Smythe
Last election: Serino 55.44 percent, Terry Gipson 44.56 percent
2016 presidential election: Clinton +1.3
Voter registration: 66,832 active Democrats, 54,262 active Republicans

State Sen. Sue Serino’s district has been targeted by Democrats in the past, and the party succeeded in 2012 when Terry Gipson defeated then-incumbent Stephen Saland. Gipson was then beat by Serino in 2014 in a closely watched and competitive race. He ran against in 2016, when Serino won more decisively, but by no means a landslide. Two Democrats are currently vying for the seat. One of them, Karen Smythe, has the endorsement of the Working Families Party. 

DISTRICT 42

Counties: Delaware, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster
Incumbent: John Bonacic*
Republican challenger: N/A
Democratic challengers: Pramilla Malick, Jen Metzger
Last election: Bonacic 61.16 percent, Malick 38.84 percent
2016 presidential election: Trump +5.2
Voter registration: 64,410 active Democrats, 53,441 active Republicans

State Sen. John Bonacic’s surprise retirement added his seat to the list of potentially competitive races. Prior to that, the seat appeared unlikely to flip, given Bonacic’s long tenure in the state Senate and his decisive victories in past elections, including running unopposed more than once. But now that he is out of the running, Democrats will try to flip the seat to blue. So far, two Democrats have already entered the race, while the Republicans have yet to put up a candidate. Pramilla Malick, a local activist, lost badly in 2016. Jen Metzger has a history in local politics and the endorsement of the Working Families Party. Two prominent Republicans, Assemblyman Karl Brabenec and Town of Wallkill Supervisor Edward Diana, are currently mulling a run.

SAFE REPUBLICAN (23)

Fred Akshar, George Amedore, Phil Boyle, John DeFrancisco*, John Flanagan, Richard Funke, Patrick Gallivan, Joseph Griffo, Pamela Helming, Chris Jacobs, Andrew Lanza, Kenneth LaValle, Betty Little, Kathy Marchione*, Terrence Murphy, Thomas O'Mara, Robert Ortt, Michael Ranzenhofer, Patty Ritchie, Joseph Robach, James Seward, James Tedisco, Cathy Young

WILD CARD (1)

DISTRICT 17

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New York Senator SImcha Felder
Alt Text: 
New York Senator SImcha Felder
Title Text: 
New York Senator SImcha Felder
Caption: 
State Sen. Simcha Felder.
Description: 
New York Senator SImcha Felder
Image Credit: 
Courtesy New York Senate
County: Kings
Incumbent: Simcha Felder
Democratic challenger: Blake Morris
Republican challenger: N/A
Last election: Ran unopposed
2016 presidential election: Trump +8.1
Voter registration: 79,887 active Democrats, 23,585 active Republicans

For the first time since he was elected to represent the newly created Senate District 17, state Sen. Simcha Felder is facing a Democratic primary challenger, who is also his first challenger ever. Felder now plays the role of kingmaker, giving state Senate Republicans their one-seat majority by caucusing with them. Felder has strong support from the Orthodox Jewish community in his district, who constitute a powerful voting bloc and tend to hold more conservative views than typical Democrats. Felder, if he wins his primary, will likely win in November once again with little or no opposition. But if Morris beats him, the race could become much more interesting.

* = not seeking re-election

Editor's note: This post has been updated to include details about candidates Jeff Pravato, Jen Metzger and Karen Smythe and the decisions by state Sens. Tom Croci and William Larkin to not seek re-election.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of years state Sen. Carl Marcellino has served.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is an editorial assistant at City & State.
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