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A Westchester Showdown

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Veteran State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer of Mamaroneck has announced that she will not run for re-election for the New York State Senate seat she has held for 28 years.

Oppenheimer, 77 years old, disclosed that she was facing major shoulder replacement surgery in 2012 which would preclude giving her undivided attention to her Senate duties and a likely brutal re-run against her 2010 opponent, Bob Cohen.

Opportunities for move-ups in elective offices in Westchester have been rare. Aside from Oppenheimer's 28 year tenure in the State Senate, Congresswoman Nita Lowey is running for re-election to her seat, held since she first won in 1988 defeating two-term incumbent Joseph DioGuardi (the GOP 2010 special election opponent to U.S. Senator Kirstin Gillibrand).

The political rumor mill opines that Lowey wants to keep the seat to preserve it during redistricting -- then make way for New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson in due course. Scarsdale Assemblywoman Amy Paulin has stated that she is running for re-election to her assembly seat -- and speculation swirls that Paulin has her eye on running for County Executive against Rob Astorino in 2013.

The likely Democratic candidate for the Oppenheimer seat is Rye State Assemblyman George Latimer, who has held the 91st district assembly seat (representing Rye, Port Chester, Mamaroneck, and part of New Rochelle) since winning it in 2004. Previously Latimer served on the Rye City Council and the County Board of Legislators and served as Chairman of the County Board from 1998-2001).

Latimer is widely regarded for his smarts, forthrightness, authenticity and integrity by partisans of all stripes -- and will be a more formidable opponent to Cohen than Oppenheimer would have been. Cohen came within a hair's breadth of beating Oppenheimer in 2010, losing by only 700 votes, and probably would have won if anyone other than the catastrophic Carl Paladino had been GOP gubernatorial candidate.

In addition, 2012 will be a presidential election year -- and Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 37th Senate district by nearly 2:1. Yet there are caveats: the likely GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, will probably poll much better than John McCain did in 2008 in Westchester (Romney looks like a Metro-North commuter), and the Obama re-election campaign will not elicit the same passion that drove up the Democratic vote that year.

The major caveat, however, is redistricting. The State Legislature is involved in the redistricting process that occurs every 10 years -- and the Republicans are already trying to add a 63rd Senate seat. Democrats are crying foul and Governor Andrew Cuomo has previously promised to veto lines drawn in a partisan manner. But time is running out for any rational, independent redistricting process to take place.

Even prior to Oppenheimer's announcement, the State Senate Republicans have been rumored to be trying to boost Cohen's chances for the seat by removing Democratic leaning Scarsdale and substituting the more Republican Eastchester and Tuckahoe. Other speculation includes removing Ossining and replacing it with Pound Ridge. If some or all of those shifts occur, the seat would be easier for Cohen to win. Latimer is likely the Democrats' best hope to retain the seat given his bipartisan reach.