Albany Agenda

Upstate New York Senate ‘primary’ is over before it even starts

A local Democratic Party official was waiting in the wings just in case state Sen. James Skoufis decided to run for higher office.

State Sen. James Skoufis speaks at a hearing on Feb. 12, 2024.

State Sen. James Skoufis speaks at a hearing on Feb. 12, 2024. NYS Senate Media Service

On Monday, Zak Constantine, the chair of the Orange County Democratic Committee, quietly filed to run in the Democratic primary for the 42nd state Senate district, a seat currently occupied by state Sen. James Skoufis. Oddly enough, Constantine had previously helped campaign for Skoufis. By Wednesday, the same day that Gov. Kathy Hochul signed off on the state Legislature’s proposed congressional districts, Constantine had ended his nascent campaign.

“I’ve committed myself to ensuring healthy Democratic representation in Orange County for years to come. I will not be pursuing a state Senate run in 2024,” Constantine wrote in a text message to City & State. “The campaign committee was formed as a precautionary placeholder amid the uncertainty with New York’s congressional maps and looming Feb. 26 public financing opt-in deadline.”

He added, “I am excited to work to re-elect state Sen. James Skoufis so he can continue to deliver for the people of Orange County and all of New York.”

Both Constantine and Skoufis said that the Monday filing was just a precaution amid the protracted redistricting process. The question is – a precaution against what?

Constantine may have been betting that Skoufis would run for Congress, leaving his senate seat open. Skoufis told City & State that he had no plans to run for Congress, but that Constantine – well aware of Skoufis’ past congressional flirtations – may have filed in case Skoufis changed course. 

“Zak Constantine is likely well aware that I publicly considered a run for Congress in 2022, so, given that and the fact the IRC proposed splitting Orange County, he submitted paperwork for a placeholder committee to meet the deadline for public financing in the event I ran for something else,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “I had no plans to run for Congress, as I’ve shared many times.”

During the last round of redistricting in 2022, Skoufis publicly entertained the idea of running for the 18th Congressional District, though he ultimately chose not to run for Congress. At the time, Skoufis told the Daily Freeman that he decided against a congressional run partly because of the condensed election cycle. Skoufis said even though he was confident of winning the primary, it would “leave our campaign in a bruised position” with just two months before a general election.

In the end, Skoufis ran for the state Senate, while Rep. Pat Ryan defeated former Assembly Member Colin Schmitt to represent the 18th Congressional District.

Two years later, Skoufis was still paying close attention to the congressional race. When the Independent Redistricting Commission proposed new congressional boundaries that would have moved part of Orange County out of the 18th Congressional District, he strenuously objected. The state Legislature voted down the Independent Redistricting Commission’s proposal and instead passed its own proposal, which kept Orange County wholly within the 18th Congressional District.

Constantine has run for elected office before. As a 21-year-old, he launched a campaign for the 99th Assembly District in 2022. He pulled out of the primary that April, and Assembly Member Chris Eachus went on to win the district.