No one has ever declared that “as Long Island goes so goes New York State,” but that just may be the case this year.

The outcome of three State Senate contests on Long Island may very well determine whether Republicans maintain their power-sharing arrangement with the Independent Democratic Conference or are relegated to minority status. If the results go the way Democrats hope they will, their party would control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature, a prospect that has the state and national Republican Party more than a little nervous.

For the past 10-plus years, the nine-member Republican Senate delegation from Long Island has been their party’s power broker and wielded enormous influence on the state as a whole. But growing Democratic registration and the increase in the number of independent voters in Nassau and Suffolk Counties have dramatically altered the electoral landscape. A victory by the Democratic nominee in any of the three key contests may have serious ramifications in Albany.

The two open-seat races on the Island present Democrats the greatest possibility to break the Republicans’ monopoly. Last December, popular South Shore Republican Senator Charles “Chuck” Fuschillo resigned to accept a job with the Alzheimer’s Foundation. His departure gives Democrats one of their best chances to pick up a seat.

They went with Nassau County Legislator Dave Denenberg as their candidate. Denenberg represents a portion of the Senate district in the county legislature and enjoys solid name recognition.

Not to be outdone, Republicans selected Michael Venditto, also a county legislator. Venditto benefits from even stronger name recognition, as his father, John, is the longtime supervisor of the Town of Oyster Bay. This contest will attract substantial sums of money from the Senate Republican Campaign Committee and a somewhat lesser amount from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which has a smaller war chest.

The second race in Nassau County pits Roslyn school board member Adam Haber against incumbent Republican Senator Jack Martins. Haber lost the Democratic primary for county executive last year to Tom Suozzi, who held that office from 2002 until 2009, when he was defeated by the current incumbent, Republican incumbent Ed Mangano, who again bested him in their rematch this past November.

Though Haber lost the primary, he gained substantial exposure. In the Senate race, he has picked-up the endorsement of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents 100,000 members in Nassau County. Moreover, his considerable personal wealth will enable him to self-finance most of his campaign.

Martins is a strong campaigner with a long history in the district, having served as mayor of the Village of Mineola. The state Republican Party will no doubt contribute heavily to keep the seat in its column.

The key Suffolk contest pits Republican Tom Croci, the Town of Islip’s supervisor, versus Democrat Adrienne Esposito. They will battle for the 3rd district seat, which is being vacated by the GOP’s Lee Zeldin, who is challenging six-term incumbent Democrat Rep. Tim Bishop in a rematch of their 2008 contest, which Bishop won handily (58% to 42%).

During the early stages of this State Senate campaign, Republicans anointed Islip Town Board member Anthony Senft, Jr. as their candidate, however, an investigation into illegal dumping in town parks hurt Senft and tilted the race towards Esposito, an environmental activist. Republicans then shifted their support to Croci, a U.S. Naval Reserve officer who served in Afghanistan and is untainted by the dumping scandal. That substitution evens up the race.

At this stage it is hard to predict who will emerge victorious in any of these races. While the State Senate contests are local affairs, all have a national overlay.

The national Republican Party has a strong vested interest in the outcome of these races. If New York Republicans lose control of the State Senate, the party’s influence in Albany will be practically nonexistent. The national GOP risks losing the prestige of holding power in at least one chamber of government in one of the biggest states in the country.

It is a risk Republicans will not take lightly. The national GOP and the New York Republican Senate Campaign Committee will spend heavily to keep those seats. Look for a lot of political action committee money to come in from out of state.

Democrats likely will not be able to match Republican spending. That imbalance will make Election Day turnout critical to the Democrats’ hopes of taking control of the State Senate. If rank-and-file Democrats on Long Island opt to stay home in November either because of apathy or dissatisfaction with the party, the consequence could very well be a Republican sweep on the Island, a critical outcome for the GOP to achieve if the party is to have any hope of accomplishing its goal of maintaining a hand on the levers of power in Albany.

 

Arthur "Jerry" Kremer served as a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly from 1967 to 1989, including 12 years as chairman of the Ways & Means Committee. He is Chairman of Empire Government Strategies and author of Winning Albany—Untold Stories About the Famous and Not So Famous.