What to watch for in today’s special elections

Governor Cuomo Swears in George Latimer as Westchester County Executive
Governor Cuomo Swears in George Latimer as Westchester County Executive
Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo Swears in George Latimer as Westchester County Executive. The 37th district seat left vacant by Latimer could swing the state senate.

What to watch for in today’s special elections

Will Dem turnout live up to the hype? The fate of the state senate hangs in the balance.
April 23, 2018

After several months of going partially unrepresented in the state Legislature, nearly two million people will soon have full representation once more, as the special elections for 11 vacant legislative seats are held on Tuesday. Few of these seats are considered competitive, although one race in Westchester County has the potential to tip the balance of power in the state Senate. Here are five things to watch for as election results are announced.

Mayer vs. Killian

The most closely watched special election is in the 37th Senate District, which includes much of Westchester County, between Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, the Democratic candidate, and Republican Julie Killian, a former Rye city councilwoman. This swing district was vacated when former state Sen. George Latimer, a Democrat, defeated Republican Rob Astorino to become the new Westchester County executive. The race between Killian and Mayer may be close, and it is critical to which party will hold the majority in the state Senate. If Mayer wins the seat and Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda wins in his special election for state Senate in the Bronx as expected, the Democrats will have a potential majority in the state Senate, bolstered by the reunification of the Independent Democratic Conference with the mainline Democratic caucus. If Killian wins, it strengthens the Republicans’ tenuous grasp on the majority.

The Felder factor

Democratic State Sen. Simcha Felder caucuses with the Republicans, giving the party a 32-29 majority. If Killian wins, that Republican majority is cemented even without Felder’s participation. If Mayer wins, both Republicans and Democrats will try to lure Felder, as he will determine the balance of power. What will Felder, who recently held up the state budget over a demand that yeshivas be exempted from state educational standards, demand?

Turnout

Off-year elections generally have low turnout, and off-year special elections for state legislative seats are especially unlikely to draw crowds of eager voters lining up at the polls. If it’s a close race between Mayer and Killian, the outcome may hinge on which candidate can better motivate her supporters. In a 2017 special election for the 30th Senate District, just over 8,000 voters participated. On the same day, a special election for the 9th Assembly District had a turnout of around 10,000 voters. In contrast, in the 2016 election, the 30th Senate District saw participation from over 100,000 voters. In the same election, the 9th Assembly District had a turnout of over 66,000 voters. This time around, Mayer may benefit from a surge in anti-Trump activism on the left. In an interview with City & State earlier this month, Mayer campaign spokesperson Douglas Forand said that around 100 volunteers were going out each weekend to canvass. Whether this volunteer enthusiasm can translate to voter turnout is a different matter.

“Blue Wave” victories

In 2017, the victory of Christine Pellegrino in the special election for the 9th Assembly District on Long Island was considered a shock, as it flipped a previously safe Republican seat. In Tuesday’s elections, if other traditionally GOP districts switch to Democratic control, it would be a harbinger of an impending “blue wave” in other elections across the state and the country. There are a trio of vacant Assembly seats on Long Island that were previously solid Republican seats. If one or more of the districts formerly held by Al Graf, Chad Lupinacci and Thomas McKevitt turn blue, that would be a wake-up call for Long Island’s GOP leaders. Meanwhile, two upstate Assembly seats previously held by Republicans Pete Lopez and Steve McLaughlin could also be flipped.

A new round of vacancies

Just as one door closes and another opens, so do legislative vacancies beget other vacancies. If Mayer and Sepulveda win their respective state Senate races, it will leave their seats in the Assembly vacant. Schoharie Town Supervisor Christopher Tague could also win the race in the 102nd Assembly District, leaving his position open. Two Rensselaer County legislators, Democrat Cindy Doran and Republican Jake Ashby, are vying for the open Assembly seat in the 107th District, meaning that there will be a vacancy in that county legislature regardless of who wins. Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke is running for the 142nd Assembly District, leading to a potential vacancy in that county legislature as well.

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