ALBANY — For most of the past five decades, individual members of New York’s state Legislature, although reviled as a group, could relax and count on the perks and power of office to continue their better than 90-percent return rate. Those days may be gone.
The flow of $200,000 of campaign cash last week alone to Democratic Senate leader John Sampson shows the quiet effort to maintain the Democrats’ one-vote majority. Meanwhile, similarly big pay days are flowing to Assembly Democrats, once thought untouchable but now facing a challenge to their veto-proof majority that has long given it the greatest power in Albany.
The Siena College poll on Saturday showed two incumbent Democrats trailing in critical races. Republican Lee Zeldin had a 16-point lead over Democratic Sen. Brian Foley in Suffolk County’s 3rd Senate District.
In northern New York’ 48th district, Republican Patty Ritchie was leading within the poll’s margin of error against Democratic Sen. Darrel Aubertine. Two other districts would be unchanged in terms of party control.
“Clearly Brian Foley is in a lot of trouble,” said Steve Greenberg of the Siena poll. “Right now, you’d have to say advantage Republicans, at least among these four districts … Clearly, the Republicans are playing offense in more districts.”
Just two years ago, Democrats took the Senate majority to control all statewide offices and both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in a half-century.
“If you want to transform this state, this is our last chance to do it, this election,” said state Republican Chairman Ed Cox on Friday.
He sees as many as nine wins for Republicans in the Senate that now has a 32-30 Democratic majority. Cox sees a gain of as many as to 10 to 15 seats in the Assembly’s 107 to 42 majority. There is one vacancy.
“I saw this coming, this huge tidal wave, but tidal waves only come once in a lifetime and this is the best election we’re going to see in 50 years,” Cox said. “We have to make the most of it.”
That national wave that has threatened and knocked off some incumbents, most often Democrats, made some ripples in local elections a year ago in New York. But the big test for state Legislature races comes Tuesday.
“The likelihood of a mass insurrection against incumbents is slim to none,” said Lawrence Levy, a political commentator and dean of Hofstra University’s National Center on Suburban Studies. “It almost never happens.”
It’s a less certain view from inside.
“It’s pretty hostile toward any incumbents and pretty hostile in general toward government,” said Democratic Assemblyman William Parment of Jamestown, who after 28 in the majority is retiring.
He expects Republicans will likely take the Senate majority, and make inroads in the Assembly. Parment has seen such a wave only a few times before: The Democratic wave following the Nixon White House’s Watergate scandal in the early 1970s and Republican wave with Ronald Reagan as president in the 1980s, among them. But this is different.
“I just see it as anger at the status quo,” Parment said. “But they can’t quite figure out where they are going to get that leadership from … it’s muddled.”
Several other races are close for various reasons including voter anger at Albany, changing enrollment of voters, and local issues. Among the closer races:
—15th Senate District in Queens. Democratic incumbent Joseph Addabbo Jr. faces Republican Anthony Como.
—The 37th Senate District in Westchester County. Democratic Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer faces Republican Bob Cohen.
—The 40th Senate District covering Dutchess, Westchester and Putnam counties. Veteran Republican Sen. Vincent Leibell isn’t seeking re-election. Republican Greg Ball, an assemblyman, faces Democrat Michael Kaplowitz.
—The 46th Senate District in Albany County. Democratic Sen. Neil Breslin faces Republican Robert Domenici.
—The 49th Senate District in Onondaga and Madison counties. Democratic Sen. David Valesky faces Republican Andrew Russo.
_The 58th Senate District in Erie County. Incumbent Democrat William Stachowski lost his party’s line in the September primary. Republican Jack Quinn, an assemblyman, faces Democrat and Conservative Tim Kennedy.