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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Two Open Senate Seats Pose Challenge To LI’s GOP

Former state Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr.’s (R-Merrick) New Year’s Eve resignation, coming after state Senator Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he would not seek re-election in 2014, is posing a dilemma for the Island’s Republican leaders.

With Senators Fuschillo and Zeldin in office, the GOP held every state Senate seat in Nassau and Suffolk, a total of nine altogether. This voting bloc gave Long Island outsized influence in the state Legislature’s upper House, a chamber where 30 Republican state Senators had since January 2013 joined forces with a few breakaway Democrats to act as a much-needed check on the Cuomo administration and the Democrat-dominated state Assembly.

Senator Fuschillo, who was first elected in 1998, stepped down from office to become the chief executive officer of the Manhattan-based Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. The seat Fuschillo vacated, with a year remaining in his two-year term, represents the state’s 8th Senatorial District (SD), covering southeastern Nassau and southwestern Suffolk. It is unclear as of this writing whether the governor will call a special election, or leave the 8th SD post unfilled until November 2014, when every state Senate and Assembly seat is up for grabs. Senator Fuschillo’s prospective successors include, on the GOP side, state Assemblyman Joseph Saladino (R-Massapequa) and county Legislator Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) while county Legislator Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) is a potential Democratic state Senate nominee.

Senator Zeldin was elected in 2010 but announced months ago he’d be foregoing another state Senate campaign to seek the GOP’s 2014 nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives in New York’s 1st Congressional District (CD). The CD covers much of eastern Suffolk County and has been represented by Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-Southampton) since 2003. Zeldin lost to Bishop in 2008 and, before securing a rematch, Zeldin must first prevail in a September 2014 Republican primary against George Demos, a former attorney at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Demos has also run previously for Congress. Back in 2010, Demos finished second in a three-candidate GOP primary contest in New York’s 1st CD.

Former state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) is weighing a bid for Senator Zeldin’s seat in New York’s 3rd Senatorial District, which represents Suffolk County communities situated to the south of the Long Island Expressway, from Islip east to Mastic Beach. Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning (D-Mastic) has said publicly she has no interest in moving to Albany so the Democrats’ may recruit state Assemblyman Edward Hennessey (D-East Moriches) for the race to succeed Zeldin. Hennessey would have to give up his state Assembly seat to make a state Senate bid.

There is also the bigger picture to consider. If Republicans continue to represent New York’s 3rd and 8th SDs, those lawmakers will, for the immediate future, caucus with the co-majority leaders, state Senators Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester). A Democrat elected from Long Island could choose the Skelos-Klein coalition, or caucus with the state Senate’s minority leader, state Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester).  

In the short term, a Democratic state Senator aligning themselves with Senator Cousins will have little power but, if the Skelos-Klein team fell apart, and the Democrats retained their numerical majority after 2014’s general election, Senator Cousins is in line to be the next majority leader. And that is the person who dispenses things a state Senator wants and needs, from plum committee assignments to state monies benefiting their Senatorial District.

The Republicans can win 32 state Senate seats in November, and regain an outright majority. It all starts by keeping the Fuschillo and Zeldin seats in the GOP column.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net