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GOP senators say Democrats will neglect upstate

Senate Republicans have a new strategy in what’s shaping up to be an election battle for control of the New York state Senate. They say now that a group of breakaway Democrats is abandoning them and rejoining the rest of the Democrats, the Senate will be dominated by New York City liberals who won’t care about upstate and Long Island.

The five-member Independent Democratic Conference  announced it would break its nearly two-year-old  alliance in ruling the Senate with the Republicans, and plans to join the Democrats in a coalition government after the November elections.

The news angered and alarmed GOP senators, who face the prospect of becoming the minority faction in January.

Sen. John De Francisco, of Syracuse, stands to lose his powerful position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, if the new allegiance holds through next January. But he says it’s more than just about him, it’s about his constituents.

“Upstate will get shafted,” said DeFrancisco, repeating the mantra he has said since the news of the deal broke.

The speaker of the Assembly is from lower Manhattan, Senate IDC Leader Klein is from in the Bronx, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins live in Westchester.

DeFrancisco says many New Yorkers may not agree with proposals pushed by the Democrats, including public campaign financing, and providing college aid to children of undocumented immigrants, known as the Dream Act.

“You’ll have taxpayers, definitely, paying for campaigns,” said DeFrancisco. "You'll have a Dream Act, which is one of the priorities, namely, provide college tuition to illegal immigrants. Now, we can't even afford enough college tuition benefits for children of citizens."

Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a Republican who represents portions of several counties in western New York, has similar concerns. He says a “New York City centric” state government does not bode well for the rest of New York.

Cuomo has lavished attention on Buffalo. He’s awarded the city a billion dollars over the next several years, and visits frequently. But Gallivan says without a regional delegation made up mostly of senators from the ruling party, Cuomo might not focus as closely in the future.

Gallivan says the Republicans worked well with Cuomo over the past few years, but some of the reason is because “that was the hand that Cuomo was dealt,” that Republicans were in the majority.

“If he doesn’t have that, and he’s got essentially what will be a power base out of New York City, it doesn’t follow and it’s not logical that as much attention will be paid to upstate,” said Gallivan.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, says assumptions that a Democratic-led Senate will ignore upstate are simply wrong.

“We have proven that we are able to take into considerations all of New York,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We care about the upstate economy.”

Stewart-Cousins says she backs the state’s regional economic development councils, which funnel money for job creation into every region of the state.

The GOP Senators are also annoyed by Cuomo’s role in convincing the two Democratic factions in the Senate to reunite. Cuomo, in exchange for an endorsement from the progressive Working Families Party, promised to play a key role in separating the Independent Democrats from the Republicans.

Up until now, Cuomo has often touted his ability to work in a bipartisan manner. DeFrancisco says Cuomo gave up his professed principles for political expediency.

“It’s obviously political. It was started by the governor touting bipartisanship, and then selling that for a seat on the ballot,” said DeFrancisco.

In the days before the announcement of the Senate leadership shake up, Cuomo made several stops in Binghamton, Rochester and Buffalo for ceremonial bill signings, where he invited GOP Senators to join him.

Sen. Gallivan attended the signing of an anti-heroin package with Cuomo on June 24, at the same time that Cuomo was convincing the IDC to defect from the Republicans and rejoin the Democrats.

Gallivan says at the very least, Cuomo has sent mixed signals. “Whatever you want to call it, whether you question whether it’s disingenuous or not,” Gallivan said.

But Gallivan says he would attend an event with Cuomo again. He says many of his constituents have been affected by the heroin epidemic and some have lost family members, so he felt the issue rose above partisan politics.

Gallivan and other GOP Senators, including their leader Sen. Dean Skelos, say it’s still a long way to Election Day, and several key Senate districts could swing toward either party. They hope between now and November to convince voters in Senate districts outside of New York City that their best interests lie with the Republicans, not the Democrats.

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.