Special elections in New York on Tuesday will present voters with nearly a dozen state legislative races from Buffalo to Long Island, and could prove decisive in the Democrats’ yearslong quest to capture all levers of state government.
The vacancies in the State Senate and Assembly are the result of incumbents decamping for other positions. State election officials say Tuesday will see a historic number of contests. “I can’t think of any time that we’ve had this many special elections on a single day,” said John Conklin, a spokesman for the Board of Elections.
The most critical races to the future of Democrats and Republicans are the two for State Senate, one in Westchester County and the other in the Bronx. Democrats have long enjoyed a comfortable margin in the 150-seat Assembly, but control of the Senate has mostly eluded them, because of a power-sharing arrangement between Republicans and eight renegade Democrats.
Despite a technical majority in the Senate, Democrats have taken a back seat to Republicans in the upper chamber, watching as the collaboration between Republicans and the so-called Independent Democratic Conference stymied legislation on issues like childhood sexual abuse and voting rights.
But this month, a reconciliation was reached between the two Democratic factions. The agreement will most likely allow the Democratic Party to recapture the Senate — that is, as long as the two vacancies that were in Democratic hands remain that way after the special election.
In the 32nd District in the South Bronx, the Senate seat vacated by Rubén Díaz Sr. will almost surely be captured by a Democrat because of the party’s overwhelming advantage in voter rolls. (Mr. Díaz left after winning a seat on the New York City Council.) Luis R. Sepúlveda, a Democratic assemblyman, will face Patrick Delices, a Republican who formerly taught Caribbean studies at Hunter College.
In Westchester, however, the Senate contest between Assemblywoman Shelley B. Mayer, a Democrat, and Julie Killian, a Republican and former deputy mayor in Rye, has both parties on tenterhooks.
The seat in the 37th District was held by George Latimer, a progressive Democrat who resigned after winning his race for Westchester County executive. Democrats in the county also outnumber Republicans two to one. But redistricting several years ago favored Republicans, and Ms. Killian has mounted a robust challenge.
In an illustration of the race’s importance, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, stumped for Ms. Mayer in Mamaroneck on Sunday morning to help get out the vote.
“The Westchester seat is the one where the most money and attention are being spent,” said Geoff Berman, executive director of the state’s Democratic Party. “We’ve been doing all sorts of phone banks and organizing canvassing trips from around the state to help Shelley.”
The big challenge with special elections, of course, is voter turnout. Unlike the November elections, special elections can escape the notice of all but the most avid followers of politics. In the past year, more Democrats have become involved in local politics than any time in recent memory. “The Democratic base is a lot more energized since the election of President Trump,” said George Picoulas, a lecturer in political science at Pace University.
In the Assembly, where Democrats have a nearly three-to-one advantage over Republicans, the nine elections on Tuesday could afford Republicans the opportunity to make inroads and the Democrats to solidify their grip. Five of the nine seats were held by Republicans, including all three on Long Island and two upstate.
Two fresh vacancies in the Assembly, resulting from two certainties of life in Albany — death and indictment — will be decided in the November election.
The three Assembly seats in New York City are expected to be filled by Democrats. In the 39th District in Queens, which includes Jackson Heights, the only major-party candidate to appear on the ballot is Aridia Espinal, a Democrat and former aide to Francisco Moya, who left the Assembly for a spot on the City Council.
In the 80th District in the Bronx, which includes Pelham Gardens, Mark Gjonaj also quit the Assembly for the City Council. The Republican candidate, Gene DeFrancis, is a United States Navy veteran who founded a merchants association. He will face Mr. Gjonaj’s former chief of staff, Nathalia Fernandez, who also worked as a Bronx representative for Mr. Cuomo.
The recent move of Brian Kavanagh, a Democrat, from the Assembly to the Senate opened up the seat in the 74th District on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where Harvey Epstein, a lawyer and former community board chairman, has the Democratic nod. He will oppose Bryan Cooper, an event planner and perennial Republican candidate.
On Long Island, the outcome of the special elections is far less certain.
In the Fifth District in Suffolk County, where Republicans dominate the electoral rolls, Al Graf, a former Republican assemblyman, left the seat for a district court judgeship. Competing to replace him are two Holbrook residents: Doug Smith, a Republican and former aide to Mr. Graf, and Deborah Slinkosky, a Democrat and former school board member who twice tried to unseat Mr. Graf.
Another seat in Suffolk was also under Republican control. Chad A. Lupinacci stepped down after winning the race for Huntington town supervisor. Republicans have held the seat in the 10th District for decades, despite the Democratic advantage in voter registration.
On Tuesday, Janet Smitelli, a Republican lawyer of Huntington, will face the Democrat, Steve Stern, a lawyer and former county legislator. Both said they want to confront the problems of high taxes, gang activity and groundwater contamination.
In the 17th District in Nassau County, another Republican, Thomas McKevitt, left for the County Legislature. The Republican nominee is John Mikulin, a 30-year-old lawyer, while the Democratic challenger is 25-year-old Matthew Malin, who works for the county’s Board of Elections.
Democrats will also vie for Assembly seats relinquished by Republicans upstate. In the 107th District east of Albany, the seat opened after Steven McLaughlin, a Republican, won his race for Rensselaer County executive.
Republicans have tapped Jake Ashby, a former Army captain who was elected to the Rensselaer County Legislature only last fall. The Democratic nominee is Cindy Doran, a retired teacher who has served in the same Legislature since 2013.
The hot-button topic of guns has figured prominently in the race. On his website, Mr. Ashby called the state’s SAFE Act, a package of gun-control laws, a “sickening display of ignorance,” while Ms. Doran wrote on her Facebook page that she “refuses to stand by as mass shootings cause immeasurable heartache.”
To the west of Albany, a three-way race is underway in the 102nd District, where Peter Lopez, a Republican, resigned to work for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Republican challenger is Chris Tague, supervisor of the town of Schoharie, while the Democratic candidate is Aidan O’Connor Jr., a paramedic and Greene County legislator. The third candidate is Wes Laraway, a high school history teacher running on the “Best Choice” line. Republicans have a strong lead in voter registrations.
A few hundred miles to the west, a Democratic stronghold that includes South Buffalo is a mash-up of party identities. One candidate, Erik T. Bohen, a Buffalo schoolteacher, is a Democrat vying on the Republican and Conservative lines. His opponent, Pat Burke, a county lawmaker, got the Democratic nod.
If elected, Mr. Bohen said he will caucus with Democrats in Albany. But Mr. Burke, who helped pass measures like a ban on gay conversion therapy in Erie County, is skeptical. Mr. Bohen has received the blessing of Michael P. Kearns, who vacated the seat after being elected Erie County clerk. Mr. Kearns, a registered Democrat, was first elected in 2012, but on the Republican line.
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