For years the Capital Region relied on state Sen. Joseph Bruno and the Senate Republicans — many of them from upstate — to secure pork barrel spending on local projects, but those days may be gone.
Democrats won a majority in the state Senate on Tuesday, which puts both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office in their control for the first time in 40 years.
Democrats now hold 32 seats in the Senate, Republicans hold 29 and one seat has not been called.
Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, said he didn’t sleep well on Tuesday evening just thinking about it. “I don’t know if it’s good government that the Assembly leader is from New York City, the deputy governor is from New York City, the governor is from New York City, the attorney general is from New York City and the comptroller is a Democrat from downstate,” Farley said.
The shift will have a huge impact on the upstate region, Farley said. “When one party is in control of everything, they start coups, quarreling and power struggles ensue,” he said. “With this looming state deficit, we have to start working together. The Senate majority has been the one that has worked with the governor and passed the tax cap.”
Farley said he could lose his committee chairmanship and hundreds of staff jobs held by Republicans in the Senate could be eliminated. “Much of my staff may have to be let go. It’s a very sad situation.”
On the other side, Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany, said since he was elected 12 years ago he’s waited to serve in the Senate majority.
He fully supports Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Democrat from Queens, and expects the “Gang of Four” will be part of the unanimous nomination of Smith in January as Senate majority leader. The “gang” refers to four New York City Democratic senators threatening to break with their party.
“I have had a number of discussions with Smith about the need for economic development in upstate,” said Breslin. “I expect there will be an effort throughout upstate for economic development. I would be wrong if I didn’t acknowledge the tremendous impact Bruno had. It will continue [under Smith] but not to the same extent.”
Breslin said Democratic control of both the Senate and Assembly and governor’s office is significant but not dangerous. “It’s more of a danger having the New York Senate under Republican control for 70 years.”
Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, said Tuesday’s election led to an “overwhelming shift of power to New York City.”
Republican Sen. Dean G. Skelos, currently Senate majority leader, is not likely to remain leader, said Tedisco. “I am sensitive to the economy. We know Wall Street is important but so are jobs in upstate.”
He said the last thing he will do is allow leadership from New York City to make it their priority to make Wall Street CEOs whole instead of focusing on the upstate economy and bringing back jobs. “We will continue to speak up about a job plan,” he said.
The upstate region generally is disadvantaged by the power change in the Senate, said Gerald Benjamin, a professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
“The fact is, you lost Bruno and everything in and around Albany suggests he has been very helpful in getting money for the region. It’s unlikely he will be replaced in the long term.”
If Democrats retain power of the Senate and Assembly and control redistricting, power in the Legislature could be lost for at least a generation, said Benjamin.
The Democrats took over the state Assembly in 1974 and still retain power; a look at the demographics and voter enrollment from Tuesday’s election indicates a sea change, said Benjamin.
Roy McDonald, a state assemblyman and former Wilton town supervisor, was elected to the state Senate on Tuesday, to the seat held by Bruno, but has a wait-and-see attitude about the power shift. “I don’t yet know if it’s a majority. I don’t think any party has a mandate,” said McDonald.
“I don’t think the public wants to hear partisanship. I’ve had it with partisanship. I look forward to working with both sides of the aisle,” he said.