NYS Senate

Sen. Mike Gianaris

Democrats believe a favorable political map and a nationalized election give them the upper hand in the contest to control the State Senate, according to the chief strategist for the party’s efforts to retake the upper house of the legislature.

Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, told WBAI’s Max & Murphy show that victory in some or all of about a dozen battleground seats will lead to quick wins on reproductive rights, gun restrictions and campaign-finance reform in 2019, although thornier issues like health care and mass-transit funding will prove a heftier lift even for a solid Democratic majority.

In a separate interview, veteran Republican operative Tom Doherty—a former aide to Gov. George Pataki now with Mercury Public Affairs—said he expects the Democrats to prevail in enough Senate races to seize control of the lone locus of Republican power in New York. With polls suggesting Democrats will hold on to the governor’s mansion, the attorney general’s office, the position of state comptroller and a U.S. Senate seat, the loss of the Senate would be a signal that, “It is time to clean house” within the state party, Doherty says.

“It’s hard work, but we’re in the business of wins and losses,” Doherty, a critic of GOP state chair Ed Cox, said.

Gianaris says Democrats feel only one of their Senate seats—presumably that of John Brooks on Long Island—is in any jeopardy, while retirements and shifting political winds have put many more GOP-held seats in play. “We’re only defending one while they’re defending like 10,” Gianaris said. That target list includes five seats where veteran Republican legislators have announced their retirements—one in Syracuse, one in the capitol region, two in the Hudson Valley and one on Long Island—and others where Democratic challengers have gained traction, including Andrew Gounardes’ challenge to Marty Golden in Brooklyn.

“What’s really happening is these races have all become nationalized,” Gianaris said. Voters, he added, “have become engaged by the Trump presidency and have decided to try to take their country back.

Asked if Gov. Cuomo, who has in past years expended little political capital or campaign cash trying to get a Democratic Senate, was doing all he could, Gianaris said: “It seems we are all working toward the same goal. … It appears the state party [which Cuomo controls] is spending real money to elect our candidates.”

Hear below as Gianaris talks about what issues he thinks a Democratic majority will deal with first, what will be longer-term projects, what the prospects for continued Democratic unity are and whether congestion pricing is the “magic bullet” the MTA needs. And listen as Doherty contrasts the days of George Pataki, when Republicans controlled (at one point) three statewide offices and the Senate—and all that has gone wrong since then.