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Democrats now have 32 seats, but do not yet control the state Senate

New York State Senate

New York State Senate Democrats now have 32 votes in the chamber, which under normal circumstances would mean they hold the majority.

But in the state Senate, it’s more complicated than that.

A hand count of the votes for a state Senate race on Long Island finds that the Democrat, John Brooks, has beaten Republican incumbent Michael Venditto. Venditto’s father is under indictment on corruption charges. The Republicans have not yet formally conceded the race.

The result means Democrats now hold 32 seats, enough for a numerical majority in the 63-member Senate.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said it’s time for Democrats to lead the chamber.

“This is what makes the majority, 32 votes,” Stewart-Cousins said.

But so far, the Democrats are not poised to be in charge. That’s because of a couple of different factors.

Democrat Simcha Felder of Brooklyn sits with the Republicans and has said he’s not likely to change that. That gives the GOP-led coalition 33 members.

And seven of the Democrats belong to a breakaway group known as the Independent Democratic Conference. The IDC has formed a coalition with Republican senators in the past and has not said yet whether it might now ally with the Democrats.

Stewart-Cousins, the state’s first female African-American legislative leader, said it’s “mind-boggling” that there would even be a question of whether Democrats should be in charge.

“We need to stop having this conversation about whether or not Democrats should govern when they have the majority,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We shouldn’t have to justify our ability to govern.”

She said with President-elect Donald Trump in power in Washington in January, Democrats in the New York Legislature and governor’s office could be an important firewall and be national leaders against policies that could harm women and immigrants. And she’s calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to step in and help.

“I believe that the governor has a tremendous amount of influence,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Progressive-leaning groups also are calling on Cuomo to act.

“It becomes much more urgent right now,” said Karen Scharff, with Citizen Action.

She said the Trump administration is poised to rescind Obamacare and take away people’s health insurance, as well as cut Medicaid, which would greatly affect the state budget, and perhaps deport some undocumented immigrants.

“They’re bringing back, basically, Wall Street economics to Washington,” Scharff said.

A spokeswoman for the Independent Democratic Conference issued a somewhat sarcastic response to the calls for unification, saying that Stewart-Cousins hasn’t spoken to the IDC leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, in over a month, and he has “no idea what her grand plan is for Democratic unity.”

This year, Cuomo has made the greatest effort since he’s been governor to campaign for Democratic candidates. He endorsed several candidates and attended rallies. He spoke at a fundraiser in October, where he said the IDC should join up with the rest of the Democrats, but that there would have to be compromises.

“I believe the IDC will want to make a coalition,” Cuomo said on Oct. 25. “The Senate Democrats are going to have to be flexible; otherwise, they could go with the Republicans.”

Cuomo’s office had no immediate comment on whether he’ll weigh in again on the Senate leadership struggle.

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.