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Tide Turns in Congress, State Senate May Follow Suit

From left: Jack Martins, Edward Ra and Joseph Saladino, all Republicans, celebrate their victories after midnight Wednesday.


Kings of the Hill

Judging from the 2010 election results, it’s clear that from Capitol Hill to Farmingville the Republicans played the Democrats for suckers. Never forced to stand for anything but their core clichés, the GOP took control of the House of Representatives by obstinately opposing everything the Democrats in Congress have proposed since 2008.

The negative strategy almost triumphed in the Senate, too, but New York’s two Democratic U.S. Senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, made quick work of their Republican challengers in the Empire State. Some of their colleagues west of the Hudson River weren’t so lucky, but with Schumer and Gillibrand’s wins, the Democrats maintain a slim majority in the Senate.

Here on Long Island the “just say no” formula proved so effective that Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) and Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) were in the fight of their lives. McCarthy held on, and her challenger, Francis X. Becker, a Nassau legislator, conceded the morning after the election. Bishop eked out a slim margin over Republican opponent Randy Altschuler, but he’ll have to wait for a recount before he can declare victory.

Come January, LI’s Democratic delegation, along with Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) and Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), who beat their opponents more decisively, will find themselves in the minority. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) will be in the new majority, making him the most powerful congressman on the Island.

“It’s a vindication of our policies against President Obama,” King told the Press on election night. “It’s a repudiation, I believe, of President Obama’s policies—and too much spending and too much apologizing for America.”

Obama came to the White House with the lofty notion that he could achieve a non-partisan ideal of cooperation in Washington. He got rolled. Republicans “refudiated” (Sarah Palin’s term) his conciliatory efforts. And so, the Democrats’ ideas were not as dramatic or as forceful as the Great Recession demanded, and unemployment remained stubbornly high—higher than Obama’s advisors ever imagined.

From Obama, there were no FDR-like clarion calls to put the American people back to work rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, and the House Republicans never had to cast a tough vote for real growth. The president risked all his political capital on getting health care passed but his labors on it won’t bear fruit for a couple of years. On the most pressing economic issue of our time, his administration aimed too low, designing its stimulus package to be as deficit neutral as possible in order to attract moderate to conservative congressional support. Compromising on it was a fool’s game from the start, but now that we know how the election has played out nationwide, he’ll face a steeper uphill battle in dealing with a GOP-controlled House. 

You could see it coming on LI with campaign rhetoric from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose endorsement of  Bishop’s wealthy challenger made the claim that “Altschuler believes in cutting taxes and cutting spending, because he knows that’s the stimulus plan our nation really needs.” That is magical thinking when there’s no consumer demand, and the corporations and the investment banks are sitting on an estimated trillion dollars. Yet the argument provided political pay dirt.

Meanwhile, congressional moderates, whose short-sightedness doomed the stimulus package, have made the whole country pay the price for the failure of their myopic vision. Democratic incumbents were stuck trying to disprove a negative, like how many jobs weren’t lost.

And the unemployed? They’ll be lucky to get an extension of their benefits the next go-round. It shouldn’t be this hard, but that’s the way it is. For now.

As Israel told the Press election night, “The Republicans have shown they’re good at politics. Now they’ll have to show they know how to govern.” —Spencer Rumsey

Status: Cuomo

Like father, like son? That’s the question confronting  Andrew Cuomo, who can polish the family legacy in Albany by acquitting himself as well as or even better than his dad, Mario, did when he occupied the governor’s post from 1983 to 1994.

The next Cuomo to take office will find New York facing at least an $8-billion budget deficit and a likely divided State Legislature with Democrats holding onto the Assembly and the Republicans clinging to the state Senate. To Andrew, his victory will probably look like a cake walk compared to how he’ll have to govern. He trounced his opponent, Carl Paladino, who had the Conservative and Republican lines on the ballot. Paladino, a Buffalo millionaire, had taken the GOP primary from Long Island’s own Rick Lazio, but in the general election he self-destructed.

Cuomo’s coattails may have helped carry fellow Democrats Eric Schneiderman and Tom DiNapoli across the finish line. Schneiderman, a 12-year state senator from Manhattan’s Upper West Side, pulled past his Republican challenger, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, to replace Cuomo as the next state attorney general. Donovan had the endorsement of former Mayor Ed Koch, a once-popular Democrat, but it wasn’t enough to make a big difference in the Big Apple.

In the comptroller’s contest, DiNapoli, a well-respected Assemblyman from Great Neck for 20 years, barely fended off a well-financed challenge from Republican Harry Wilson, a Wall Street trader who poured almost $4 million of his own money into his losing bid. DiNapoli has been the comptroller since 2007 when he was appointed to the job by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver after Alan Hevesi resigned in disgrace. So now DiNapoli gets a full term to steer the state’s $125-billion pension fund through the troubled times ahead.—Spencer Rumsey  

Albany Bound

While the GOP won big on the national stage and New York’s top-ticket Dems were in the winner’s circle on Election Night, the state legislative races could most impact Andrew Cuomo’s plans once he moves into the governor’s mansion.

Republicans appeared to have reclaimed the Democrats’ short-lived 32-30 majority in the state Senate, although recount results could be weeks away in a handful of close contests. Most notably on LI, Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) was more than 400 votes behind Republican challenger Jack Martins, the Mineola village mayor, as of press time.

If Johnson’s seat goes the same way as that of Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point), who was unseated by Republican Lee Zeldin, a Smithtown attorney and Iraq War veteran, Minority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) may have the margin he needs to recapture the majority. At least three Democratic Senate seats are in play in upstate New York, but in the meantime both sides are playing it cool.

“It’s great to have nine Republican state Senators from here on Long Island,” Martins told the Press shortly after his party declared him the winner early Wednesday morning. Johnson reportedly described his opponent’s declaration “premature,” and state Senate Democratic leaders remain optimistic about his incumbency.

But if a Republican-controlled Senate is bad news for Cuomo, there may be some good news behind a rising GOP tide in the Assembly. Even if Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver maintains his majority, recounts cast doubt if he’ll keep a 100-vote minimum to override a governor’s veto.

Signs of that erosion were seen on LI Tuesday when Assem. Ginny Fields (I-Oakdale) lost her seat to Republican Al Graf. Meanwhile, Marc Alessi (D-Shoreham) had a 40-vote lead in the unofficial tally in his race against Dan Losquadro, the Republican challenger. That close contest is in recount mode as well.

The takeaway appears to be that Cuomo will likely have to shift his goals more toward the middle if he hopes to get anything accomplished with a GOP-run state Senate, akin to Obama’s current predicament with Congress, except Cuomo didn’t get to take advantage of a clear-cut Democratic majority for the past two years.

And with voter turnout upward of 40 percent on Election Day, along with so many pivotal races hanging in the balance, it is also a reminder that the old cliché that every vote counts still rings true.
Timothy Bolger

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