Undecided NY Senate Races Could Swing Power

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, speaks to reporters Wednesday, June 15, 2011 in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A New York State Senate race on Long Island undecided a week after Election Day is among three contests statewide that could cost Republicans leadership of the chamber.

With most eyes on Democrats potentially unseating two upstate GOP senators, a third  match-up turned close call snuck up on Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) in his backyard: Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), the former Mineola village mayor, versus Democratic challenger Dan Ross of Manhasset, who manages Gran Prix Subaru in Hicksville.


Meanwhile, ballots are still being counted in the race to replace retiring state Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon)—although the potential for an upset there depends upon whom you ask.

“There’s a tremendous amount of paper out there that is almost six times the current difference so anything is possible,” Democratic Nassau Board of Elections Commissioner William Biamonte said of the Martins-Ross contest. He said the board is scanning ballots as fast as it can.

In the battle for the 7th Senate District, Martins leads Ross by 3,598 votes. Still to be counted are 11,683 unscanned emergency ballots, 7,003 absentee ballots and 5,287 affidavit ballots. As of Wednesday afternoon, Martins had 48,305 votes to Ross’ 44,707.

Biamonte wouldn’t speculate about either candidate’s fate.

“We’re working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every night and we’re hoping we’ll have this done in the next day or so,” he said.

Ross, 27, who was seen as a long shot against the popular Martins, 45, didn’t receive any significant financial support from the Nassau Democratic Party or the state Senate Democratic committee headed by state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), but the party is now helping him with the count. He hasn’t conceded, but Martins has declared himself the victor.

“No reason to do [that],” Ross said, “until all the votes are counted.”

Martins wasn’t available for comment.

If Ross were to win the seat, Skelos’ 33-29 hold on the state Senate before Nov. 6 would be more in doubt as Democrats already appear within reach of recapturing a slim majority. But, like most things in the state Senate, it’s complicated.

State Sen.-elect Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who unseated GOP incumbent David Storobin, defected to the Senate Republican Conference this week.

“Mr. Felder has shared with me the issues that are most important to his constituents,” Skelos said in a statement, “including economic development and job creation, reducing taxes and providing financial relief for hardworking families.”

Complicating things further is this year’s addition of a 63rd Senate district and the four-member Independent Democratic Conference, which broke away from the pack after the Democrats lost the majority they briefly held two years ago. The caucus has allied itself with Skelos in the past.

A spokesman for the State Senate Democrats, Mike Murphy, said his party now holds 32 seats, despite Felder’s switch.

He includes Cecilia Tkaczyk, the Democratic candidate in the newly minted 46th state senate district near Albany who leads the Republican by 139 votes, and Terry Gipson, the Democrat in the 41st district, near Poughkeepsie, who’s up by 1,600 votes. Overall, Murphy said “three or four seats are up in the air.”

Skelos counts on keeping Johnson’s vacated seat in the 4th district in Republican hands, with his hopes riding on Assemb. Philip Boyle (R-Brightwaters) holding a roughly 5,400-vote edge over his Democratic opponent, Suffolk Legis. Rick Montano (D-Central Islip), who won’t concede until all the votes are tabulated.

“It’s not a recount,” said Boyle. “They’re just counting the absentees and the affidavit ballots.”

As of this week, about 4,400 absentee ballots had yet to be counted as well as an untold number of affidavit ballots stuffed into suitcases. As for the absentee ballots, Boyle said, “I think we’re going to get most of them.”

Still, Montano refuses to concede.

“We’re just waiting to count all the final ballots to see where we’re at,” said Montano. The current margin “is a heavy nut to crack,” he admitted. “At the same time, I’d like to see all the ballots opened up.”

Currently, he has “no clue” how many affidavit ballots are still uncounted. Boyle doesn’t believe the race will be close in the end.

“This is not one of the races that are [separated by] a couple dozen or a couple hundred even; this is a sizable margin,” said Boyle. “I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ll be happy when it’s certified officially.”

It’s not the only undecided state-level race on LI. A Suffolk Democrat could also unseat a Republican Assemblyman and add to the majority held by Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

In the race for the 3rd Assembly District, Edward J. Hennessey a 50-year-old Shirley attorney who’s a former Brookhaven Town councilman and Suffolk prosecutor, is pitted against 48-year-old Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue), who was one of the first Tea Party members to hold public office when he won a 2010 special election decided by 160 votes. [Murray owns D&S Advertising, one of several companies that deliver the Press.]

This time, Murray and his opponent are separated by under 50 votes with about 4,700 ballots still to count. “It’s 28 votes going into the count today,” Hennessey said.

By Wednesday afternoon, the Suffolk Board of Elections was just getting to the paper ballots, he added. There were roughly 2,200 absentee ballots on hand with another 600 due from the military personnel by that day’s deadline, and 1,900 affidavit ballots.

“There’s quite a few votes to go through,” Hennessey said. “I’m optimistic that in the final count I’ll have pulled enough votes to win this race.”

Murray was unavailable for comment.

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