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Long Island's Four GOP Senators Might Play Big Role To Rein In Cuomo

Karen DeWitt

Long Island sent four Republicans to the New York State Senate this week for the start of the new legislative session. That’s one more than last session and way fewer than the nine when the GOP had its heyday. The small gains could make a big difference in the priorities of the Republican minority as a whole.

Suffolk is the only county that sent more than two Senate Republicans to Albany; Nassau sent zero.

Suffolk’s modest four make up 20% of the entire state Senate Minority; Republicans only hold 20 of 63 seats, giving the Senate Democrats a supermajority.

That means the minority will have to be loud to get anything done. And State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt hopes that Long Island’s suburban GOP will help claw the state back from Democrats.

“We're not allowing the progressive New York City element to just run the state,” Ortt said.

Ortt said most Long Island GOP values match with Republicans in the rest of the state.

“When you look at the campaign themes and the issues that were discussed, whether it's taxes, whether it's public safety, and supporting law enforcement, or any number of other issues that will be coming down,” he said.

Republicans had control over the state Senate for a century before Democrats took over in 2018. Ten veteran GOP senators decided not to seek re-election, including two from Long Island: Ken LaValle and John Flanagan, who relinquished the minority leader post for Ortt.

“We, as Republicans can't have a strong conference, unless we have a healthy, Long Island,” Ortt said. “No question. We're Long Island, the voices of Long Island and the voices of those senators are going to be a very strong voice in our conference going forward.”

Republicans were able to keep those Senate seats and secure one lost to a Democrat in 2018. Now most of Long Island’s state delegation is red, and backed Donald Trump in 2020.

Republicans Anthony Palumbo, Mario Mattera, and Alexis Weik were sworn in as newcomers to the Senate. Senator Phil Boyle was re-elected for a fifth-term.

The number one issue for these Republicans this session is law enforcement. Their term in office will be tested here and in response to Republicans’ support of Trump’s previous attempts to overturn the election and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. They’ve all condemned the violent assault that killed a Capitol police officer.

“As a member of a law enforcement family, the issues that came up this year were so near and dear to me, I have a husband, who's a police officer, I have a son who's a police officer. And we need to make sure that bail reform and the repeal of 50-a, that all of these are repealed, and that we're able to bring back law enforcement, said Weik.

50-a had allowed law enforcement to shield police misconduct records from the public.

It was nixed last June in response to the nationwide protesting of police violence against people of color. Republicans and police unions say repeal punishes all law enforcement for police brutality.

“It's very upsetting when I listen to what is his plan for the future of New York State, legalizing prostitution, making sure that police officers are unable to do their job. These are not things that I support,” she said. (The former about decriminalizing prostitution has been reintroduced for years without much movement.)

Weik is a political newcomer to state politics and unseated Democratic freshman Monica Martinez. Her Islip-Brentwood seat was long held by Republicans; It was Congressman Lee Zeldin’s seat when he was in the state Senate.

Long Island Republicans secured two other open, but long-entrenched seats.

Mattera, a longtime labor union head, took former Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan’s seat in Smithtown.

“And the last thing I want to hear also is: ‘Mario Mattera, how are you Republican, and you're not, and you're a labor leader.’ That is false,” he said. “Because guess what, this is going to be showing that in other words, labor cares about the Republican because guess what? We're going to make sure that we're going to have jobs. We're going to make sure we're going to protect jobs for the middle class.”

And the expert among them is Anthony Palumbo, who switched chambers from the Assembly to take veteran eastern Long Island Senator Ken LaValle’s seat.

“This one party rule is deteriorating the suburbs,” Palumbo said. “We’re losing people in droves from this state. They're leaving like it's on fire. And that's thanks to [Democrats] policies. We will keep this fight going. We will fight. And in two years, I'm hopeful that we will get the Senate back in the majority. And we will do what's right for the citizens of New York State, not for the New York City politicians.”

The Republican Senate Minority hopes to reign in the authority the legislature gave to Governor Andrew Cuomo at the start of the pandemic to rule by executive order. But how that gets shaped could be in the hands of Long Islanders.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.