The Week in Politics: New York Senate in Play, Baltimore Mayor's Race and Political Feuding in Kentucky

The most important election news and political dynamics at the state and local levels.
by | April 22, 2016

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New York Democrats Gain Seat But Not Senate

When is a majority not enough for control of a chamber? When coalition politics are as convoluted as they are in New York.

On Tuesday, Democrats picked up the seat vacated by Republican Dean Skelos, the former Senate majority leader who was convicted along with his son last December on bribery and conspiracy charges. According to complete but unofficial results, state Rep. Todd Kaminsky beat Republican attorney Chris McGrath by a 780-vote margin, taking 49.9 percent to McGrath's 48.8 percent.

Assuming Kaminsky's margin holds, Democrats will occupy 32 seats in the 63-member Senate. That should be enough for control. The hitch is that Republicans are still likely to piece together a working majority. Simcha Felder, nominally a Democrat, has been voting with the GOP. There is a separate group of five so-called independent Democrats who could also provide Republicans with an edge.

The situation has Albany observers playing out different scenarios, wondering who will want to make deals with whom. Rump Democrats, for instance, may jockey to make the best possible deals with Republicans, says Lawrence Levy of Hofstra University. Or Republicans may see their party entering "a downward spiral" and seek to make separate deals with Democrats in anticipation of that party winning the chamber in November.

Either way, the victory should give Democrats some momentum heading into November. Kaminsky not only won the seat of a former leader but broke up the GOP's solid control of districts in Long Island. "It changes the status quo for the general election," said political scientist Gerald Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz, which in New York is "the toughest time for Republicans."

Baltimore Set to Pick a Mayor With Less Power

With Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stepping down, Baltimore residents will pick a new mayor next week. But that candidate could end up wielding less power.

The vote Tuesday is a primary, with the next mayor formally winning office in November. But because of the city's overwhelmingly Democratic nature, the winner of that party's primary will instantly become the de facto mayor-in-waiting.

Polls indicate that the frontrunner in the large Democratic field is state Sen. Catherine Pugh, who enjoys a lead over former Mayor Sheila Dixon. Pugh has picked up a number of high-profile endorsements from the likes of Congressman Elijah Cummings and City Councilman Nick Mosby, who lent her his support as he dropped out of the mayor's race last week. On Wednesday, a dozen Baltimore-area state lawmakers also announced their support for Pugh.

But a big field and changes in the timing of the election will keep things a little unpredictable. The city's mayoral election was moved from odd-numbered years to coincide with the Democratic presidential primary, which means voter turnout is up. More than 15,000 people have cast ballots in early voting, according to the Baltimore Sun, four times the number in the mayoral election of 2011.

The next mayor of Baltimore faces enormous challenges in a city that was the site of widespread protests last year following the death in police custody of Freddie Gray. But that person may have less power to effect change. On Monday, the city council approved a package of bills that will reduce the mayor's power, giving the council president and city comptroller nearly equal authority over spending decisions, while also expanding the council's ability to shape the budget.

Rawlings-Blake will veto the measures, but the council appears to have the 12 votes necessary to override her. That means the decision will ultimately be left up to the voters in November, who must approve any changes to the city's charter.

In Kentucky, Feuding Breaks Out Between Bevin and Beshears

Matt Bevin, the Republican governor of Kentucky, accused his Democratic predecessor's administration of corruption on Tuesday.

The allegations came after Timothy Longmeyer, who served in the cabinet of former Gov. Steve Beshear, pleaded guilty to bribery charges. Prosecutors are continuing their investigation into the case, which involves kickbacks to a Democratic consulting firm and donations to party candidates. Longmeyer briefly worked as a deputy to state Attorney General Andy Beshear, the former governor's son, before stepping down last month.

In a 20-minute statement, Bevin said the Beshear administration had shaken down state workers for campaign contributions and awarded a $3 million no-bid contract to a company with political ties to the administration. "In the first four months of my administration, my staff has uncovered evidence that officials in the prior administration failed to meet the high standards that the law and people of Kentucky demand from state government officials," Bevin said.

Steve Beshear, who has combated Bevin's plans to roll back his health-care expansions, called the governor's claims "wild" and an attempt to distract the public from his own failures. "Today's accusations, which have absolutely no basis in truth, continue this pathetic spectacle," Beshear wrote on his Facebook page. "There was never any attempt to pressure employees to make political contributions, and we followed both the spirit and the letter of procurement laws."

Andy Beshear said Bevin's administration has already given out no-bid contracts worth $4 million. He accused the governor of overstepping his authority by launching his own investigation rather than letting the ethics commission look into his allegations. Earlier this month, the attorney general sued Bevin for making unilateral cuts to higher education spending.

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