Vacancies Put Wrinkle in Struggle for Control of State Senate

With two Democratic state senators elected to other offices Nov. 7, the jockeying about which party will control the Senate next year will be more complicated.

Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr. was elected to the City Council from the Bronx, and George Latimer won the election for Westchester County executive.

Latimer, who has served five years in the Senate, has a long record as a friend of tenants, going back to when he was a county legislator and engineered the appointment of better public members to the Westchester County Rent Guidelines Board. Diaz, though very conservative on social issues, has been strongly supportive of tenants’ rights legislation.

The earliest date a special election could be held to fill these and vacant Assembly seats is Feb. 15. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to set a date in early March.

Therefore, when the state legislature convenes in January, the Senate Democrats will not have the 32 votes to form a majority. Even if the nine rogue Democrats—the eight members of the Republican-allied Independent Democratic Conference plus Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who caucuses with the GOP—agree to reunify with them, they would still be outnumbered 31-30.

Diaz’s district, the 32nd, which stretches from Morrisania to Soundview, is guaranteed to elect a Democrat. The buzz is that Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda will get the nod from the Bronx County Democratic machine, which is tight with IDC leader Jeff Klein, and that he has already agreed to join the IDC. Another variation of the rumor is that Sepulveda will not join the IDC, but will, from within the mainstream Democratic conference, support Klein in his quest to become the majority leader, displacing Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers.

The Latimer seat, in a district that zigzags from northeastern Yonkers to Mamaroneck and north to Katonah, is not as safe. In the 2012 redistricting, the Senate GOP added Republican areas to it while switching Democratic areas to Stewart-Cousins’ district. Latimer, a dogged campaigner, nevertheless won three terms, despite the gerrymandering and the GOP throwing a ton of money into the effort to defeat him.

Many progressives hope that Assemblymember Shelley Mayer of Yonkers will run for Latimer’s seat. Since being elected to the Assembly in 2012, she has been a stalwart pro-tenant legislator, and before that, when she was chief counsel to Senate Democrats in 2009-2010, she worked hard behind the scenes to try to get bills strengthening the rent laws passed. Yonkers has the most rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments of any state municipality outside New York City.

The upshot of all this is that from January to March, the Republicans will almost certainly maintain their alliance with the IDC. After then, when Democrats will likely regain their 32-31 majority , there will be renewed pressure for Cuomo to engineer a reunification. Simcha Felder has said that he will return to the fold if the IDC does.

For the last six years, the governor has played a Machiavellian game about the IDC. He engineered the 2012 GOP/IDC alliance, enabling the GOP to control the chamber despite being outnumbered 33-30. Of course, Cuomo claimed that he had nothing to do with it. Now that he may be planning to run for President, he needs a Democratic-controlled Senate—but everyone in and around Albany knows he would prefer that his fellow conservative Democrat Jeff Klein be the leader.