© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cuomo says "extremists" challenged pro-gay marriage GOP senators

Both pro- and anti-gay marriage forces are claiming victory after a split primary result in two key state senate races. Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo says two pro-same sex marriage Republican senators who survived primary challengers were targeted by “extremists” within the GOP.Nearly two weeks after the September 13 primary, Senator Stephen Saland of the Hudson Valley has been declared the winner in his Republican Party primary, where his opponent made an issue of the senator’s swing vote on same sex marriage in 2011.

Senator Mark Grisanti of the Buffalo area, who also voted for same-sex marriage, already easily won a primary challenge. But Senator Roy McDonald, who represents Saratoga Springs and parts of the Capital Region, and who also voted for gay marriage, appears to have lost his primary race.

Erica Pelletreau, with Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay rights group, says opponents of gay marriage, who vowed to defeat every Republican lawmaker who voted for same sex marriage, failed.  She says the “bang” the opponents came in with, ended “with a whimper.”

Pelletreau’s group helped the GOP Senators with financing and get out the vote efforts.

But the Reverend Jason McGuire, with New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a group that supports traditional marriage, says his side has scored at least one clear victory, by helping to defeat McDonald. And he says Saland, despite outspending his primary opponent, won by only 107 votes.   

“I think it was a very successful primary for us,” McGuire said.

McGuire says his group will be active in the November elections, opposing GOP Senators and Assembly members who voted for gay marriage.

Cuomo, who convinced the three senators, along with one other, to support his same sex marriage bill, says he is elated by Saland’s win, and concerned over McDonald’s apparent loss. He says Saland and Grisanti, who won, were unsuccessfully targeted by far right elements in the GOP.

“They were threatened by the extremists in their own party,” said Cuomo. “It shows that they could act out of conscience, they could vote with integrity, and they could win the next election.”

McGuire, with New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, says Cuomo doesn’t get it.

“The governor doesn’t understand,” said Maguire. “This is the base of the Republican Party.  It’s mainstream.”

Steve Greenberg, with Siena College’s Research Institute,  says among the most conservative Republicans, the vote on same sex marriage was a big issue. He says low turn out in the races meant the most highly motivated voters actually showed up at the polls.

“The turnout was extraordinarily low,” said Greenberg, who say 85 percent of GOP voters did not vote in the primaries. He says the view of those who voted in the GOP primaries does not necessary reflect the position of most of the senators’ constituents.

“The majority of New Yorkers support same sex marriage,” Greenberg said.

McDonald could remain on the ballot in November on the Independence Party line; he has not yet said what he intends to do next. Cuomo has not ruled out endorsing McDonald if the Senator stays in the race. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.