Education groups take sides in expensive state Senate race


Given the narrow majority Republicans hold in the state Senate, all eyes are on the special election Tuesday in Long Island, which could play a major part in which party controls the state Senate.

It’s no surprise, then, that the two major-party candidates in the race have raised more than a million dollars apiece.

Democratic Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky has spent a total of $850,502, according to filings submitted at least 11 days prior to the election, and reported $296,132 in campaign funds on hand. Republican candidate Chris McGrath has spent a total of $860,198 and had $282,162 in campaign funds remaining in the most recent filing.

Polling had shown McGrath, a personal injury lawyer, and Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, locked in a tight race to replace former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was convicted last year on charges of corruption, but a Siena College poll released last weekend found McGrath had opened up an 8-point lead over Kaminsky.  

In the final weeks leading up to Election Day, special interest groups and other elected officials have made their final fundraising push to help elect their preferred candidate. McGrath has reported several large donations, including from the campaigns of Republican state senators. Cathy Young for Senate donated $11,000, Friends of Betty Little donated $10,300 and the Rent Stabilization Association PAC donated $10,000 to the Republican candidate.

Kaminsky has also received several largedonations, though some have gone through the Nassau County Democratic Committee. The county committee has received a $54,000 donation from 32BJ United’s American Dream Fund and $10,000 from the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union.

Some of the donations have come from education advocacy groups. Long Island has seen a large number students opt out of standardized tests tied to the state’s controversial Common Core standards, and the issue has been discussed frequently by both candidates. Kaminsky and McGrath both profess to be opponents of the Common Core standards and tests and have both promised to fight to reform it.

“I am very much opposed to the Common Core,” McGrath told City & State during a meeting with its editorial board. “I don’t believe that the testing of children grades 3-8th grade is necessary and more importantly, I don’t believe a teacher’s evaluation should be based on the results of these children taking these tests.”

VOTE-COPE is the non-partisan action fund of New York State United Teachers, or NYSUT, the state teachers union. In February, VOTE-COPE gave $10,000 to the New York State Republican Campaign Committee and an additional $30,000 in March. There was no similar contribution to the state Senate Democrats in recent filings.

A spokesman for NYSUT said in a statement that the union is neutral in the Kaminsky-McGrath race and has not endorsed either candidate.

“If you go back through our contributions over the years, we have traditionally made contributions to the Republican Campaign Committee,” Carl Korn, spokesman for NYSUT, said in an email. “This is not new, nor related to the SD 9 race.”

In recent weeks, Kaminsky’s campaign has also attacked McGrath for accepting contributions from a pro-Common Core special interest group. State of Politics reported this week that the interest group, StudentsFirstNY, a pro-charter school advocacy organization, has spent more than $1 million in the Nassau County district to support McGrath.

State of Politics also reported that UFT, New York City’s teachers union, is making a last-minute push for Kaminsky, who has recently been very outspoken against Common Core.

“I think a lot of the problem with what happened with Common Core is that the people that need to administer the tests, meaning educators, were not part of the process of developing and rolling it out,” Kaminsky told City & State’s editorial board. “We’ve really taken a wrong step and we need to correct that.”

Kaminsky did not receive any donations from NYSUT, but did receive a $50,000 donation from the United Federation of Teachers in February.

“The UFT has thousands of members who live and vote in Nassau County. This year we have donated $50,000 to the Nassau County Democratic Committee,” Dick Riley, a spokesman for UFT, said in an email. “We have also established an Independent Expenditure Committee – Teachers for Todd – to support Todd Kaminsky’s campaign for the State Senate.”