Talking Points | Primary Underdogs
By Conor Wight – Syracuse, N.Y. (CitrusTV) – On Thursday, New York State Senator Dave Valesky lost the Democratic nomination in the 53rd state senate district to newcomer and progressive challenger Rachel May in a race symbolizing the arrival of the “blue wave” in New York.
According to Syracuse.com, May holds a 600 vote lead over Valesky. May’s unofficial victory signifies a victory for progressive voters. Valesky likely lost the nomination thanks to his history as a member of the Independent Democratic Caucus, a fate shared by 6 other former members of the now defunct group.
The IDC formed in 2011 when four Democratic state senators broke away from the party caucus, aligning themselves with state Republicans. 8 Senators would eventually join, and opponents accused the group of preventing a Democratic majority in the state senate and killing progressive legislation.
Andrew Cuomo, together with the State Senator Jeff Klein of the 34th District, announced in April that the IDC would be absolved. In spite of such efforts, frustrations with the IDC evidently boiled over on primary day as New York Democrats voted left.
This was the theme of this year’s primaries. Senator Klein, the former leader of the IDC, was forced to spend over 2 million dollars, according to the New York Times. Not only is this more than what Cynthia Nixon spent on her gubernatorial campaign, it wasn’t enough to beat Alessandra Biaggi.
Andrew Cuomo was also impacted by the progressive wave, forced to move left on many of his policies during the campaign, including taxation of single-use plastic bags and legalization of marijuana, as reported by The Atlantic.
In spite of the evident move to the left in the primaries, voters haven’t strayed to far from the center. The New York Times reports that anti-IDC challengers like May were the only newcomers to find victory on the ballot.
How such victories will ultimately impact Albany is hard to say. Ultimately, while these candidates have moved to the left of the traditional holders of these state senate seats, Democrats are replacing Democrats. November will be the test for the Democratic party as they seek to gain a majority, which will only require flipping a small number of seats.
Democrats currently hold 31 of the 63 senate seats, with another seat held by Senator Simcha Felder, who has defected from the party and caucuses with the Republicans. If the trend of the blue wave continues, Democrats will only need one or two seats, assuming their current seats are protected, to gain a true majority in the state senate.
The Democratic odds have increased as 5 Republicans announced this year that they will not seek re-election. Senators Tom Croci of the 3rd District, William Larkin Jr. of the 39th District, John Bonacic of the 42nd District, Kathleen Marchione of the 43rd District, and John DeFrancisco of the 50th District, which includes parts of Syracuse, will not be on the ballot in November.
According to the Senator’s website, DeFrancisco has served in the state senate since 1992, meaning his absence will create a large whole for Republicans to attempt to fill. Republican candidate Bob Antonacci, who has served as the Onondaga County Comptroller since 2008, will attempt to fill that whole. He will face Democratic John Mannion, a West Genesee High School biology teacher and a newcomer to politics.
Again, success in flipping Republican seats must go hand in hand with holding on to current Democratic ones. If her victory becomes official, May will face Republican challenger Janet Burman in November. This is the first time that a Republican has challenged for the seat since 2010, according to Syracuse.com.
The 53rd District is weighted in favor of Democrats. There are 70,917 registered Democrats in the district, outnumbering the 47,242 registered Republicans by a margin of almost 2 to 1, according to the New York State Board of Elections.
However, there is the risk that Valesky ends up splitting the vote. He is still due to appear on the ballot under the Independence Party. He could be motivated to stay in the fight, which would give a potential opening for Burman; May was not a clear favorite in the district, only just edging out the win.
And her victory margins could go down as absentee ballots are counted. As of Tuesday night, May has yet to declare victory while Valesky is yet to concede. 1,491 absentee ballots are still in contention, according to Syracuse.com as of Friday. Valesky would need to win over 80% of these ballots, or 607 more than May, to come out on top.
Follow updates from CitrusTV News as these ballots are counted in the coming days to find an official victor.