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In NY, Primary Day And Special Elections To Replace Convicted Legislative Leaders

John Minchillo

Tuesday is not only New York’s presidential primary. It is also the day for two special elections to replace the disgraced former leaders of the New York State Legislature, who lost their seats after being convicted on multiple felony corruption charges.

One of the races is to replace former Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican who is now facing a lengthy prison term on corruption convictions.  The Democrats have put up Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a former prosecutor who worked on the corruption case against former Senate Leader Pedro Espada, who is now in jail. Kaminsky, who represents Long Beach on Long Island’s South Shore, was a guest on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” where he said the fall out from corruption at the State Capitol is an issue.

“People are fed up,” Kaminski told Lehrer. “They know something stinks, and so I have been addressing it head on.”

Chris McGrath, the Republican candidate, is a local personal injury attorney with ties to the GOP, but has never before run for office. McGrath has not mentioned Skelos, and has done few interviews, preferring instead to communicate in ads, that portray him as committed to his community, pointing out his paper route and where he played basketball and went to church.

In produced ads, McGrath argues that electing the Democrat would mean New York City’s agenda would take precedence over Long Island’s, something Kaminsky denies.

“If I lose this race, then Bill de Blasio will be picking the pockets of each and every family in this district,” McGrath says in one ad.

Kaminsky has relied on his family for some help, including his famous great uncle, comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks, who’s doing robocalls.

“Yes, it really is Mel Brooks,” Brooks says in the recorded message

Brooks urges voters to get out to the ballot on April 19th.

“Write that down!” Mel urges recipients. “April 19th is a special election. You’re liable to forget.”

Both candidates may have trouble getting independent voters to remember that they can vote in the Senate race, even if they are not allowed to cast a ballot in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. Turn out is likely to be high in the hotly contested Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. While Donald Trump is ahead in the Republican presidential primary, his supporters have shown they are highly motivated to vote.

The Senate race is also important because if Kaminsky wins, then the Democrats would numerically have the majority in that chamber. But one Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, caucuses with the GOP, and is not expect to switch. There are also five members of the Independent Democratic Conference who have in the past formed a majority ruling coalition with the Republicans.

A Siena College poll released over the weekend shows McGrath eight points ahead. Democrats counter that their internal polls show Kaminsky up by three points.

There’s also an election in lower Manhattan to replace former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is scheduled to be sentenced on corruption convictions in a few weeks. Silver ally and Democrat Alice Cancel faces Working Families Party candidate Yuh-Line Niou, who is chief of staff to Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim. The district is heavily Democratic. The Republican candidate is businessman Lester Chang.

In court documents unsealed Friday, the U.S. Attorney accused Silver of having two affairs, one with his former communications director, who ran one of Albany’s highest earning lobbying firms, another with a former assemblywoman who received state jobs in agencies controlled by Silver and Assembly Democrats. It’s not known if that news will have any effect on the race.

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.
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