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Long Island Holding Special Election On Presidential Primary Day

Tuesday’s presidential primaries in New York have been getting a lot of media attention. But there is also a local election on Long Island that day.

It’s the special election to replace New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Rockville Republican, who lost his seat last December after being convicted of corruption.

WSHU’s senior political reporter Ebong Udoma spoke with New York State Capitol Reporter Karen DeWitt about the upcoming elections.

KAREN: The special election is on the same day next Tuesday as the primary. And I’m wondering how both campaigns are going to get that message out to independent voters because I think most people think you have to be a registered Democrat or a registered Republican to vote in this race. It’s Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky on the Democratic side running for this seat and kind of a political operative lawyer Chris McGrath is running on the Republican side. So they are really going to have to pay special attention to get their voters out next Tuesday for this race. And it could affect the balance of power in the Senate because if the Democrat Kaminsky wins, numerically Democrats will have more seats in the Senate. But that does not mean they are going to have power in the Senate because of the complicated way the Senate is set up tight now.

EBONG: That’s something interesting, because in the Senate in New York you have a couple of Democrats who caucus with the Republicans.

KAREN:  Well, yes that’s right. You have one Democrat who is outright now caucusing with the Republicans, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn. And then you also have group that calls themselves the Independent Democratic Conference. They are slightly more conservative than the rest of the Democrats. There’s five of them. In the past, they’ve caucused with the Republicans, so the actual Democrats, in the regular old Democratic caucus, don’t have the numbers right now to control the Senate.

EBONG: In Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy is playing a very active role in the presidential election. He’s actually a surrogate for Hillary Clinton. Do you have a similar situation in New York? I haven’t seen much of Cuomo actually out on the stump for any of the two Democrats?

KAREN: No we haven’t, and that’s curious to me. Because Governor Cuomo started his career as HUD Secretary under President Bill Clinton and he’s been very friendly with the Clintons. He did have one rally with Hillary Clinton about a week ago. It was celebrating New York’s states passing of a phased in minimum wage to $15 in the downstate area, $12.50 upstate, and a paid family leave program that is coming online in a few years. And Hillary Clinton was at that. But I actually did think that Cuomo would be out more campaigning for her, and he really has not done that. I thought he would be a more active surrogate, but then Hillary Clinton herself has been all over New York state.

EBONG: Although she has had New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio playing a prominent role in her campaign?

KAREN: Well that’s a good point. And we wonder if it’s because DeBlasio, who also had worked for the Clinton Administration, in fact he worked under Andrew Cuomo at HUD. I’m wondering if he’s trying to play catch up because at first he was a little bit hesitant about supporting Hillary Clinton, saying she needed to prove that she was a progressive. That didn’t really play very well with him. So maybe he needs to look more active than Andrew Cuomo, who is a very solid Hillary Clinton supporter right now.  

EBONG: Okay, what about on the Republican side, any prominent Republican statewide supporting the three candidates?

KAREN: Well we do have Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, who ran for Governor against Andrew Cuomo back in 2010 and lost badly. He is a Tea Party type definitely. He’s a big Trump supporter. But in terms of the elected lawmakers in the Senate and the Assembly, no, most of them, the vast majority have not come out.

EBONG: Quite a number of the Republican elected officials in Connecticut have shown some interest in Ohio Governor John Kasich’s presidential campaign. As a matter of fact, Kasich is the first to campaign in Connecticut. He was here last Friday. And at a town hall at Sacred Heart University this is what he had to say.

KASICH: "I need to continue to gather delegates and that’s what we are going to do and go into that convention with as many delegates as we can muster."

EBONG: So how does New York award delegates because the polls are now telling us that it seems as if Trump might get up to 50 percent or more of in the election, what would that mean for the delegate split in New York?

KAREN: Well funny you should ask. It’s not a winner take all state in New York, it's congressional district by congressional district. If you are a candidate who wins more than 50 percent of the vote in a congressional district you get all of the delegates.

EBONG: So how this been for you? You’ve covered Albany for years, has there been this much excitement about a presidential election?

KAREN: No, there never has, and I’ve been covering politics here for a quarter century. I covered Andrew Cuomo’s father Mario Cuomo, and some of the leading Democrats would come and pay him a visit. I remember Bill Clinton coming, I remember Jerry Brown, the California governor, back when he was running for president. They would come one at a time. But we’ve never had this total convergence of both being in play in New York State, and really a must win for each side. It’s extremely exciting I've got to admit.

EBONG: Well thank you so much Karen, thanks for joining us.

KAREN: Thank you.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.