Albany Agenda

The NY lawmakers hoping for a 2024 comeback

Voters will see familiar names on their ballots, including Elijah Reichlin-Melnick and likely Tom Abinanti.

Former state Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnich at the Capitol in 2022. Reichlin-Melnick is running for his old seat this year.

Former state Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnich at the Capitol in 2022. Reichlin-Melnick is running for his old seat this year. NYS Senate Media Services

At a time when the state Legislature is set to see big turnover thanks to a large number of retirements, some former lawmakers have decided they’re not ready to give up legislating.

At least four state lawmakers who lost their seats in 2022 are attempting to win them back this year. Former state Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick and former Assembly Members Peter Abbate and Judy Griffin have all announced that they’re challenging the Republicans who beat them two years ago. And former Assembly Member Tom Abinanti has all but officially announced that he plans to take on fellow Democrat MaryJane Shimsky, who bested him in a primary.

Abbate had served nearly four decades in the Assembly before he lost to Republican Assembly Member Lester Chang for the 49th District in Queens last election cycle. Although several of his remaining contemporaries are retiring – like Assembly Members Jeff Aubry and Helene Weinstein – Abbate said that he wanted to heed to calls of members of his community. “I (was) doing pretty well with my pension and my social security, and was starting to relax a little, but I sort of felt an obligation to run again when people were telling me,” Abbate told City & State. Another candidate, Jimmy Li, had originally explored running for the seat, but he is now instead running for a district leader position. “I don’t know if he was totally prepared… (but) hopefully he will be the next person in the Assembly from the Democratic Party,” Abbate said of preparing Li to one day take over the seat in a district that has a large and growing Asian population.

In the Hudson Valley, the one-term Reichlin-Melnick is challenging Republican state Sen. Bill Weber for the seat Reichlin-Melnick first won in 2020. Unlike Abbate, Reichlin-Melnick began considering his comeback almost immediately as he said local leaders approached him quickly and announced his campaign less than a year after his 2022 loss. “It felt to me like I was doing good work, and useful work, for the people in the county that I’m from, born and raised in Rockland, and that I was certainly hoping to continue that work for a little while to come at least,” Reichlin-Melnick told City & State. He said that local Democratic leaders were happy with his representation, and he wasn’t aware of other potential candidates eyeing the seat before announcing. He’s still running unopposed in the primary. 

Not everyone is running against a member of the opposite party. Abinanti lost his primary two years ago, and is now petitioning to get back on the ballot to take on Shimsky again. He had served as the representative for the Hudson Valley Assembly District 92 since 2010 before his electoral loss in 2022. “I’ve been asked by community leaders to run again,” Abinanti, who has not officially announced his campaign yet, told City & State. “They feel that my successor has not been a strong enough advocate for the community.” He said specifically, those asking him to run are disappointed with Shimsky’s supposed support for a new law that facilitates a wealthy part of the Town of Greenburgh to incorporate into a village, something he had fought to prevent as it would direct tax dollars from those wealthy residents away from town services in favor of hyper-local village services. Shimsky co-sponsored the original bill that placed limits on incorporating villages, but the exemption for Greenburgh came through a subsequent amendment to the law that Shimsky voted against. Doug Forand, a campaign spokesperson for Shimsky, called it “unfortunate” that Abinanti is using “false information in his effort to justify his campaign,” and said Shimsky “did not support the legislation he cites and never has.” Abinanti said he hadn’t necessarily planned to run again, calling the fairly recent decision to explore a new campaign based on grassroots support. “I was disappointed but resigned to working in the private sector,” Abinanti said. “I was about to set up a not-for-profit to lobby on behalf of people with disabilities and to continue working in the community.”

On Long Island, Griffin is challenging Republican Assembly Member Brian Curran. She originally defeated Curran to flip the 21st District in 2018, but Curran launched his own comeback in 2022 to win back his seat. Now it’s Griffin’s turn to relaunch her bid in an attempt to best Curran once again.

In a slightly different vein, former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate is also trying to make a comeback this year, although not for the seat from which he was expelled in 2010. He’s running to replace the retiring Aubry after having challenged him twice in the past. Monserrate has never directly sought to win back his state Senate District 13 seat, currently held by state Sen. Jessica Ramos, but he has tried to win back his place on the New York City Council and reenter state government through the lower chamber. 

In the state Legislature, it’s not unheard of for lawmakers who have lost their seats to launch a comeback. Curran on Long Island is one example, but the region has two others. State Sen. Monica Martinez first won a seat in 2018, but lost her reelection to Republican state Sen. Alexis Weik in 2020. Redistricting gave Martinez another shot, and she ran for a new district in 2022, earning her a spot back in the chamber even as Weik remained as well. State Sen. Jack Martins also originally gave up his seat in 2016 to run for Congress, but decided he would seek his old state legislative seat in 2022. He bested former state Sen. Anna Kaplan to once again represent the 7th District.

There are at least two comeback bids at the congressional level as well. Former Rep. George Santos recently announced that he would challenge fellow Republican Rep. Nick LaLota in a primary to represent the 1st Congressional District. While that’s not the 3rd District seat he held before his expulsion from the chamber last year, Santos is still hoping voters will send him back to Washington. Former Rep. Mondaire Jones is also trying to win back his old Hudson Valley seat, running against Republican Rep. Mike Lawler. Jones didn’t lose to Lawler – he instead chose to run downstate for a new seat in Brooklyn rather than engage in a primary battle against former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. But after Jones lost his primary and Maloney lost to Lawler, Jones has returned to Rockland County in an attempt to flip the seat back to blue.