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2 races could decide control of NY Senate, Democratic agenda

February 23, 2018

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Two special legislative elections this spring could give Democrats control of the New York state Senate — and decide the fate of proposals to strengthen gun control laws, address climate change and tighten campaign finance laws.

Currently, Republicans have a one-seat majority in the 63-member Senate. Democrats could take over if they win the April 24 special elections in the Bronx and Westchester County — but only if they also resolve longstanding internal divides that have prompted a splinter faction to side with Republicans.

Democrats already have a big majority in the state Assembly and hold the offices of governor, comptroller and attorney general. Control of the Senate too would ease the way for several high-profile proposals currently blocked by the GOP. In addition to climate change and campaign finance, the measures include authorizing early voting and allowing molestation victims to sue their alleged abusers even if the civil statute of limitations has expired.

They are counting on voters frustrated with President Donald Trump and other Republicans to push them to victory. With Democrats enjoying a huge advantage in party registration in the Bronx, the Westchester race has emerged as the pivotal contest.

“Winning will make a difference in people’s lives,” said Shelley Mayer, the Democratic Senate candidate in Westchester who now serves in the state Assembly. She said support for stronger gun laws has emerged as a particularly important issue following last week’s school shooting in Florida.

Julie Killian, Mayer’s Republican opponent, said voters are less concerned about party affiliation than they are the state’s high taxes and cost of living.

“Most people understand this issue isn’t about Donald Trump but the issues in our community,” said Killian, a former Rye city councilwoman.

The Bronx race should be an easy win for the Democrats. Democratic candidate Luis Sepulveda, a state assemblyman, doesn’t yet have a Republican opponent. Registered Democrats in the district outnumber Republicans by more than 20-1.

Both seats were previously held by Democrats and became vacant when former Sen. Ruben Diaz was elected to the New York City Council and ex-Sen. George Latimer won the office of Westchester County executive.

Democratic infighting has complicated control of the Senate. A faction known as the Independent Democrats broke with mainline Democrats years ago to empower the Republicans, while Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn has also sided with the GOP. The odd coalition has allowed Republicans to retain power even at times when they lacked a numeric majority.

This year the leaders of the mainline Democrats and the Independent Democrats have agreed to reunify — but only if they hold onto the two open seats.

That deal remains in place so far, according to Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and a spokeswoman for Sen. Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx, the Independent Democratic leader. Felder has said he would consider rejoining mainline Democrats too.

“There’s real momentum, a real big blue wave and a real tide of activism,” said Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Yonkers.

Republican leaders say Democrats are overconfident, and that New Yorkers want them in charge as a counterweight to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other downstate Democrats.

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