LI Nine facing new challenges as Dems seek control of Senate | Gaughran 2018
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LI Nine facing new challenges as Dems seek control of Senate

By: 
Rick Brand
Publication: 
Newsday
Apr
7
2018

They were once known as the Long Island Nine — a solid all-Republican bloc of state senators from Nassau and Suffolk that held tremendous clout for decades on issues from school aid to road construction.

“Years ago, getting a red [Senate] seat in Albany was a mark of prestige for Republicans,” said Desmond Ryan, longtime business lobbyist. “Having a chair in Albany was better than being a congressman. . . . Now it’s all changed. This could be their last hurrah.”

In the last three years, the Long Island Nine has become the not-so-solid seven with the conviction of ex-GOP Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos on federal corruption charges and the election loss of freshman Sen. Michael Venditto after federal charges were leveled against his father, former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, who is now on trial. Skelos’ conviction was tossed on appeal, but he’s facing retrial.

The number could further wane if state Sen. Tom Croci of Sayville, undecided about his future, does not seek re-election. Croci left Albany before last week’s state budget votes, according to an aide, for a prior family commitment; others say he was miffed that the budget has no funds for local sewers.

The latest setback this week was the reuniting of Senate Democrats, in which eight dissident Democrats who have propped up GOP Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s control of the house decided to rejoin their party caucus. Flanagan’s lone edge in the 32-31 chamber is now Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with GOP senators.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is holding a Long Island rally at the IBEW Local 1049 in Holtsville on Sunday to kick off the campaign to take back the Senate and Congress.

Republicans say the fence-mending is all about Cuomo’s re-election and Cynthia Nixon’s primary challenge to him, and there’s not enough glue to keep Senate Democrats together. They say veteran Sens. Kemp Hannon, 72, of Garden City, Carl Marcellino, 75, of Syosset and Kenneth LaValle, 79, of Port Jefferson are committed to running and no high-powered names have emerged to challenge any local GOP incumbent.

“If the Senate Democrats take over, Long Island gets nothing,” said Scott Reif, Flanagan’s spokesman, maintaining New York City needs will dominate the Albany agenda. “That’s the case we’ll be making and it’s a persuasive case.”

But Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, sees the party picking up Senate seats because President Donald Trump’s unpopularity and the Nassau corruption scandals have created “a tidal wave of electoral dissatisfaction” that will give both GOP incumbents and big donors pause.

“They have the prospect of going from a majority, which is major fun, to being in the minority, which is misery,” he said. “So why fight an uphill battle for a job you’re going to hate and risk going out as a loser?”

Jacobs said the party is backing legal services attorney Kevin Thomas of Levittown to challenge Hannon and has three or four potential contenders, whom he declined to name, to oppose first-term GOP Sen. Elaine Phillips of Flower Hill.

However, Joseph Mondello, Nassau GOP chairman, believes the Democratic merger will “energize suburban voters to support Republican Senate candidates . . . to stop New York City Democrats from having complete and total control over state government.”

Rich Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman who in the past has had a sub rosa non-aggression pact with the GOP Senate, said he backs reunification and is comfortable with Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, who comes from suburban Westchester. “I’ve always been a suburban Democrat committed to those officials who support a suburban agenda,” he said. “The past Democratic leadership lost me when they backed the MTA tax and they ended up losing a lot of seats.”

Schaffer, who is Babylon supervisor, said he backs freshman Sen. John Brooks of Seaford, which is important because Babylon Town is the most heavily Democratic part of Brooks’ district. He also is supporting Suffolk Water Authority chairman James Gaughran of Northport for a rematch against Marcellino; Darrin Green of Central Islip, 52, a 23-year Nassau correction officer, against Croci or a replacement; and Bailey Spahn of Bay Shore, 20, a Hofstra student, to run against Sen. Phillip Boyle (R-Bay Shore).

Ryan said the threat to the GOP is similar to the 1974 Watergate scandal, which turned the Republican-controlled Assembly, led by Montauk lobsterman Perry Duryea Jr., into a Democratic chamber, a loss from which the GOP has never recovered. While he expects veteran Senate incumbents to run, Ryan predicted many may exit early if Republicans lose the majority. “They’ll roll the dice, but if it comes up snake eyes, they’ll leave,” he said.