New York's Strange Senate Race

Following up on my post from Friday: It's looks as though New York will have a strange election for state senate next month, one ...
by | February 22, 2010

Following up on my post from Friday: It's looks as though New York will have a strange election for state senate next month, one with large, but amorphous, political consequences.

Helen Sears, a former Democratic member of the City Council in New York City, has won the Republican nomination for the 13th District New York Senate special election.

There are two big questions, neither of which come with an easy answer: Does Sears have a chance and, if she wins, what does it mean?

The first question is simpler, so let's start there. According to Liz Benjamin of the New York Daily News, Sears' hopes of winning in this overwhelmingly Democratic district, are dependent on Hiram Monserrate, the Democratic incumbent who was booted out of office after he was convicted of domestic violence, getting on the ballot as an independent.

Monserrate and Assemblyman Jose Peralta, the Democratic nominee, both are Hispanics, so it seems that the thinking goes they might split the district's large Hispanic vote and allow Sears (who is white) to sneak to victory. But, just picking up the Republican vote won't be enough for Sears. This district has around 78,000 Democrats and around 12,000 Republicans.

If Sears wins, the Republican caucus would have 31 members and the Democratic caucus would have 31 members. That possibility has led to discussion that we would see a repeat of the stalemate that gridlocked the New York Senate last year.

However, I haven't seen any commentary that mentions the role that Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch would play. Ravitch, you'll recall, was appointed by Gov. David Paterson to try to break the previous deadlock. To the surprise of most legal analysts, New York's courts upheld the Ravitch appointment. Perhaps there's some procedural reason that Ravitch couldn't simply break the tie from a Sears victory (he'd vote for the Democrats), but, if so, I don't know what it is.

The long-term political implications also are unclear. Sears, who lost her City Council seat in a Democratic primary last year, says she's staying a registered Democrat. What's more, it sounds as though she wants to run for both the Democratic and Republican nomination when she aims for a full term this fall. What would that mean for control of the New York Senate?

Probably, we'll never find out. Sears isn't likely to win. A better question might be what will happen if Monserrate wins next month. Could/would his colleagues kick him out of office all over again?

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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