Victories by Conservative Party candidates this week will change the dynamic of Schenectady County’s Legislature this winter, though their impact on discourse is still somewhat of an unknown.
Incumbent Holly Vellano and newcomer Randy Pascarella both cruised to victory in District 4 with endorsements from the county Democrats. Likewise, Conservative Grant Socha landed a seat in District 3 after securing an endorsement from the Republicans.
Technically, the Legislature’s Conservative bloc will give it a new minority. But in practice, the three legislators will likely caucus with the one of the two major parties.
Vellano has caucused with the Democrats since first joining the Legislature in 2009, and there’s no indication that she’ll change this practice. Pascarella, who is chairman of the Schenectady County Conservative Party, wouldn’t say whether he’d follow suit but indicated he’ll likely choose his allegiance based on the issues before the Legislature.
“I’m going to caucus based on the issues,” he said Wednesday. “All those things I talked about on the campaign trail were not false promises. That’s what I’m going to do when I get there.”
If the preliminary results remain, the Democrats will have 10 seats to the two held by the Republicans and the three held by Conservatives. GOP Chairman Jim Buhrmaster said he’s confident Socha will side with his caucus and isn’t convinced the rest of the Conservative bloc won’t join him on certain issues.
“Nobody has made any commitments,” he said.
And that could mean more dialogue on the floor at Legislature meetings. Since 2011, Buhrmaster has served in a minority caucus by himself, meaning there’s no fellow Republican to offer a second to a motion he brings to the floor.
The majority Democrats have, on occasion, allowed Buhrmaster’s resolutions to reach the floor but then let them die on the floor without discussion. The practice rankled the lone Republican enough that he seldom bothers proposing legislation.
That will change in January, Buhrmaster promised. With Socha and fellow Republican Brian McGarry in his corner, the minority leader believes there will be far more dialogue once the new legislators are installed.
“There will be an opportunity for Republicans to bring up issues,” he said. “Clearly with the addition of Brian and Grant that will happen. I think it’ll be a lot more open than it was in the past, and that will be a great thing for everybody.”
Majority Leader Gary Hughes believes the new dynamic on the Legislature will place the onus on Buhrmaster to follow through with his promise for more dialogue. Though the GOP will still be dwarfed by the Democrats, he said there’s now an opportunity for the party to have its voice heard.
“Jim now has a responsibility that he did not have and can no longer sit in the corner saying, ‘I can’t do anything because I can’t get any support,’ ” he said. “He and his Republican colleagues are going to need to advance an agenda and put some ideas out there.”
Even without the Conservative bloc, the Democrats will continue to enjoy a supermajority on the Legislature. This is especially due to the party controlling all seats in District 1 and District 2, which represent the city and are more heavily weighted than the town districts during legislative votes.
Of course, the GOP could also pick up another seat. Republican Alan Boulant remains a scant 89 votes behind Democrat Cathy Gatta for the final seat in District 3, which represents Niskayuna and Glenville.
About 498 absentee ballots remain uncounted. In addition, there are roughly 40 affidavit ballots that still have to be reviewed.
Republicans are taking the issue to state Supreme Court in Schenectady County, but Judge Christine Clark had to recuse herself from the matter. Attorney Michael Cuevas said a majority of the votes that remain to be counted come from Glenville, where the Republicans have a clear enrollment advantage.
“The results of the elections hang in the balance,” he said. “No one should be assuming this election is done. It could very well change.”