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Democrats win numerical majority in state Senate, GOP to remain in control

New York State Senate

Democrats won two special elections for New York state Senate in the Bronx and Westchester County Tuesday, which will give them a numerical majority in the Senate, but Republicans will still control the chamber thanks to a lone Democratic Senator who will continue to caucus with the GOP.

Even before the results of Tuesday’s election were decided, Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) said in a statement that, with only 25 days remaining in this year’s legislative session, he wants to do what’s best for his constituents.

“Political gamesmanship must not be allowed to jeopardize the leadership, committee structure and staff of the New York State Senate and push this institution into turmoil,” Felder said. He added that he fears if some of the races are close, it might lead to weeks of court battles, further paralyzing the Senate.

Neither of the races were close. In Westchester County, Democratic Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer defeated Republican Julie Killian by nearly 7,000 votes. In the other race, Democrat Luis Sepulveda easily won over Republican Patrick Delices and Reform Party candidate Pamela Stewart-Martinez.

Democrats had hoped that if Felder decided to go back to their party that might mean that a number of progressive measures could be approved in New York this session, including, early voting , the child victims act to allow survivors of childhood sexual abuse their day in court, and campaign finance reform.

But, even if Felder had rejoined the Democrats, the conservative leaning Democrat from Brooklyn was not on board with many of the progressive items, and so they might have ultimately failed to pass anyway.

GOP Senators helped Felder get a key item he wanted in the recently approved state budget, an easing of rules on curriculum for Yeshiva religious schools.  Now, apparently  Felder is returning the favor.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, says the GOP Senators are “thrilled” and called him “an important and trusted member of our conference.”  

The Senate Democrats also issued a statement, saying a “blue wave” is sweeping the country, and that they fully expect to pick up enough Democratic seats in the November elections to take back the Senate. Senate Democratic Communications Director Mike Murphy said “the voters are sick and tired of Democrats that empower Trump Republicans.”

Even though Felder says his decision to remain with the Republicans is final, Gov. Cuomo is not ready to give up. In a statement, the governor’s spokeswoman Dani Lever says Cuomo still wants Democrats to unify, saying “this conversation will continue in the morning.”

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.