Road to total Democratic control of New York government runs through CNY
After 8 years of being in the minority, coupled with a complex cross-party power relationship, Democrats are hoping to win back control of the New York state Senate in Tuesday's elections. And they're looking to central New York to help them do that.
The retirement of Republican state Sen. John DeFrancisco following his unsuccessful bid for governor has left the 50th Senate District seat vacant for the first time in a quarter century. And both political parties know whoever wins it could decide the balance of power in Albany.
DeFrancisco was first elected to the seat in 1992. He has thrown his support behind Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci to succeed him. But Democrat John Mannion, a West Genesee High School teacher, is hoping to be the first Democrat to be elected in the district in 53 years.
The GOP holds on to the state Senate by the thinnest of margins. A single, renegade Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, crossed his own party to give the Republicans an effective one-vote majority, so flipping DeFrancisco's seat alone could give Democrats control of the Senate, and consequently, give them control of the entire New York state government.
"Clearly the margin is very thin. There's 31 Republicans, there's 31 Democrats and there's one Simcha Felder, and he currently caucuses with the Republicans," Onondaga County Republican Committee Chair Tom Dadey recently told CNYCentral. "So, yeah there's a lot on the line. This is an open seat. Any time there's an open seat, it's a competitive race in theory."
The high stakes for both parties has resulted in nearly $3 million in spending on the district, making it one of the costliest contests in the state.
"Every seat is going to count, and this one, originally expected to stay with Republicans, has become very important," said Grant Reeher, professor of political science at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. "Given the district, the history of DeFrancisco holding the seat, the similarities between the styles of DeFrancisco and Antonacci, and the endorsement of DeFrancisco as well as The Post-Standard, I'd give Antonacci the advantage, but Mannion has the prospect of the blue wave going in his favor."
Democrats are banking on predictions of that "blue wave" of voters eager to push back against President Donald Trump and other Washington Republicans.
"If you look at our John Mannion state Senate race and you look at a lot of state Senate races across New York, you'll see that many of those races that have long been Republican are very winnable," Onondaga County Democratic Committee Chair and state Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter recently told CNYCentral. "People are very excited and you'll see a lot of replacements."
Republicans are aggressively defending their last remaining grip on power in the state, arguing that Democratic control would lead to higher taxes and a focus on New York City at the expense of upstate.
"Bob Antonacci is someone who's been elected county-wide three times," Dadey said. "He's somebody who's not afraid to take on tough issues and tackle tough issues."
The 50th Senate District covers most of Onondaga County and Syracuse's northern and eastern suburbs, as well as Skaneateles, Pompey, Van Buren and parts of Auburn and eastern Cayuga County. As of Nov. 1, it is almost evenly split among active registered Republicans and Democrats, according to the New York state Board of Elections. Democrats have a slight edge with 63,388 voters to the Republicans' 62, 696.
"Since April, we have seen a large number of new registrations in Onondaga County, and of those, they have been overwhelmingly Democratic," said Dustin Czarny, an Onondaga County elections commissioner.
There are also a significant number of independent voters in the region.
"How they break is going to determine this district," Czarny said.
When asked what kind of priorities he would want in a Republican Senate should he and the GOP win, Antonacci said "making New York more affordable for middle-class families, making the property tax cap permanent, partnering with businesses to create an environment that encourages good-paying upstate jobs, ensuring Central New York gets it fair share from Albany — whether that is school funding, road and bridge monies, etc — and securing our communities, such as creating safer schools, stronger neighborhoods, fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic."
Mannion said in a Democratic Senate he would also focus on jobs.
"Unemployment may be down, but these are not the middle-class jobs that our area was known for generations ago," Mannion said. "We need a comprehensive plan so that our kids and grandkids can make their lives here."
The Democrat also said he would focus on ethics reform, education and environmental protection.
"Central New York is blessed with more fresh clean water than nearly anywhere in the world," he said. "As a biology teacher, I know what causes the toxic algal blooms impacting Owasco, Skaneateles and Otisco lakes and I know we need to act fast to prevent squandering this precious resource."
Election Day is Nov. 6.
The Associated Press contributed to this story