New York State Senate Democrats hope to take leadership of their house away from Republicans in the 2016 elections — and many believe the candidates at the top of the ticket will help them do that.
The leader of the Senate Democrats, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, is at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to witness the historic nomination of the first female candidate for president in a major political party. She said she hopes to break some barriers of her own later this year by becoming the first woman, and female African-American, to be Senate majority leader.
“I know the chances are real,” said Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Westchester. “There’s no question about that.”
She said Democrats always pick up seats in a presidential election year, but this time, the choices are even more sharply defined.
“You can be with the party of (Donald) Trump, which is the party that’s going backward, and fearful, and divisive,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Or you can be with the party that understands that the future is moving forward, in faith, together.”
Sen. Michael Gianaris is deputy Democratic leader in the Senate and top campaign strategist. He also believes that the strength of Hillary Clinton in key Senate districts is going to help Democrats retake the state Senate.
“There’s enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton in New York, and tremendous antipathy toward Donald Trump,” Gianaris said.
Gianaris said there was already a test run of the relative strengths and weaknesses of Clinton and Trump in the suburbs during the special election in April to fill the Long Island seat held by former Senate Leader Dean Skelos.
Skelos is facing prison for corruption convictions. The contest was held on the same day as the presidential primary, and the Democratic candidate, Todd Kaminsky, won.
Gianaris predicted that Democrats will do very well in the suburbs of New York City, but he admitted that as you travel farther up the Thruway, support for Trump grows stronger.
Earlier in July at the Republican National Convention, state Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan took the opposite view on Trump, saying he thinks the GOP presidential nominee will help Republican senators win and keep seats.
“I am supporting Donald Trump for president,” Flanagan declared. “And I’m going to do so with grace, with diplomacy, with passion, with fervor.”
Gianaris said those statements were music to his ears.
“We always knew that the Republicans would go down with the ship with Donald Trump,” Gianaris said. “But we never thought they’d sign on to be his first mates as they hit the iceberg.”
Gianaris said if the GOP Senate candidates want to align with Trump, “we’re happy to help them make that point.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been criticized in the past for not doing enough to help Democrats regain the Senate, which they held briefly from 2008 through 2010.
Cuomo said Tuesday at the DNC that he does back Democrats for Senate, if they are worthy candidates.
“I support Senate Democrats,” Cuomo told reporters in a question-and-answer session.
But Cuomo said they need to have “integrity” and “good character.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m going to support a criminal because they’re a Democrat,” said Cuomo, who said he was not referring to anyone in particular.
Gianaris said he’d welcome Cuomo’s support, but pointed out that the governor is not actually on the ticket this year. The next governor’s race is not until 2018, so Cuomo’s influence will have far less effect than the presidential candidates.
Gianaris said the popularity of Sen. Charles Schumer —who’s running for re-election — as well as some hot congressional races will also have influence. But he said the governor has a large campaign war chest, and assistance with fundraising would be very helpful.
“We are always outspent by the Republicans,” Gianaris said.
The GOP-led Senate has helped the governor enact socially progressive measures, such as marriage equality and gun control, as well as raising the minimum wage. Republican senators also have helped the governor enact fiscally conservative measures not backed by most Democrats, including a property tax cap.
Cuomo did little to help Senate Democrats in the 2014 races. But he denies any accusations that he’s really on the side of Senate Republicans, saying he does not want to replicate the gridlock of Washington, and will work with whoever is elected.
“The people chose a Republican Senate,” said Cuomo, who said he won’t reject the people’s choice. “I’m governor, not king.”
The Democrats currently do have the numerical majority in the Senate, but in a complicated political scenario, one of the Democrats meets with the Republican caucus, and five other breakaway Democrats meet in their own separate group.