10/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Senate Races To Watch


Sen. Brian Foley vs. Lee Zeldin

Brian Foley, a Democrat who swept to victory in 2008 over longtime incumbent Caesar Trunzo, has his hands full in his first re-election bid running against Lee Zeldin, a young Iraq War veteran who has strong Tea Party support.

Foley’s vote for the 2009 budget is a key issue, with the MTA payroll tax in particular a source of outrage for may in the Suffolk County district. Even obscure fees, like a tax on salt water fishing permits, have become headaches for Foley, whom Republicans consider among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents this year.

Foley had been pushing for the SUNY empowerment bill to be part of the final state budget, but the plan was left out when the budget was finally passed in early August.


Sen. Frank Padavan vs. Tony Avella

On paper, former New York City Council Member Tony Avella presents one of Frank Padavan’s toughest opponents during his nearly four decade tenure. Avella’s former Council district covered a larger and more conservative part of Padavan’s district than did Queens Council Member Jim Gennaro’s district—and Gennaro came within 400 votes of knocking off Padavan in 2008.

Avella also has an independent streak that infuriated Council colleagues but played well in his northeast Queens district. He built his name recognition running for mayor in 2009.

Still, Republicans are confident they will hold the seat, with Barack Obama no longer at the top of the ticket. Also, Padavan’s renowned constituent services and moderate voting record have kept him in office for years as fellow New York City  Republicans have gone by the wayside. Avella, never a strong fundraiser, had only $39,000 on hand as of the last campaign filing.


Sen. Joseph Addabbo vs. Anthony Como

Anthony Como, who had been seeking the job of executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, was lured into the race by the Senate Republicans and internal polling showing that Como had a chance of knocking off Addabbo, who is running his first re-election campaign for the Queens seat. (Addabbo defeated Como’s former boss, Serf Maltese, in 2008.)

Addabbo angered pro-gay-marriage groups, who poured by into his campaign in 2008, by voting against the same sex marriage bill last year, but does not face a primary challenge from his left flank. Addabbo has a substantial fundraising lead over Como, whose late start in part led to him having only $3,000 on hand as of the last fundraising period.


Scott Vanderhoef vs. David Carlucci

Following the retirement announcement of the late Tom Morahan, who was regarded as unbeatable by Democratic strategists, Republicans quickly got their top candidate for the seat in Rockland County executive Scott Vanderhoef to run. Though disliked by some in local Republican circles for giving too many patronage jobs to Democrats, Vanderhoef is a prodigious fundraiser and has built strong name recognition as a 17-year county executive. Democrats were hoping to lure a higher-profile candidate such as Town of Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence into the race, who is now expected to run for county executive if Vanderhoef wins. David Carlucci, the youthful Clarkstown town clerk, has focused on reform issues in his campaign, slamming fellow Democrat Pedro Espada, Jr., and calling for his disenrollment from the party.


Greg Ball or Mary Beth Murphy vs. Mike Kaplowitz

Assembly Member Greg Ball and Somers Town Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy have been waging perhaps the state’s nastiest Senate primary campaign this year, with the SRCC sending out mailers highlighting accusations that Ball groped a waitress and stalked an ex-girlfriend, and Ball accusing Murphy of a smear campaign. They are running to replace Sen. Vincent Leibell, who is running for Putnam County executive.

Though the Senate Republicans are backing Murphy, Ball has strong fundraising numbers and Tea Party support. If he emerges from the primary, Murphy will still be on the Conservative line, while the Democrat in the race, Westchester County legislator Mike Kaplowitz, has the Independence Party line.

Kaplowitz is running as a conservative Democrat, focusing his campaign on cutting property taxes and decreasing public employee pension costs. Given the Republican infighting, the seat is regarded as one of the Senate Democrats’ top pickup opportunities this year in a district that has grown increasingly Democratic in registration.


Sen. Darrel Aubertine vs. Patricia Ritchie

Darrel Aubertine is regarded by the Senate GOP as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents this year. Republicans are already running TV ads targeting the North Country Democrat, elected in 2008 special election that was seen as a bellwether for the Democrats eventual ascension to the majority. They are hoping that the Congressional race against Democrat Bill Owens will drive up Republican turnout, and are emphasizing the regional imbalance for upstate residents created by the Democratic takeover of the State Senate.

Ritchie, the St. Lawrence County clerk, gained some notoriety for helping lead the charge against Eliot Spitzer’s plan to give illegal immigrants’ drivers’ licenses, and again for opposing the 2009 budget that included a license plate registration fees. The fee was eventually revoked under pressure from Aubertine and his upstate colleagues, but his initial vote for that budget will likely play a large role in the race. Still, Aubertine gained chits with constituents over his opposition to the farm workers bill that eventually died, and has a strong fundraising lead over Ritchie.


Andrew Russo or Danny Liedka vs. Sen. David Valesky

In 2004, an internecine Republican battle in central New York helped hand a longtime Republican seat to David Valesky, a former radio host who ran on a reform platform. Now the highest ranking upstate Democrat in the conference, Valesky appears somewhat vulnerable this year over his 2009 vote for the budget and charges of regional imbalance within the Senate Democratic conference. But a heated Republican primary between Andrew Russo, a Grammy-nominated concert pianist, and Danny Liedka, the mayor of East Syracuse, could hurt Republican chances of winning the seat. The SRCC is backing Russo, who has trounced Liedka in fundraising, and is threatening to send staff into the district to further tilt the primary in Russo’s favor.


Sen. Velmanette Montgomery vs. Mark Pollard

Longtime Brooklyn incumbent Velmanette Montgomery faces her first tough primary challenge in years from Mark Pollard, a civil rights attorney. Montgomery has earned the wrath of charter school supporters, with hedge fund managers who support charters pouring money into Pollard’s campaign.

But Pollard has run a low-profile campaign so far and what support he has beyond the charter backers remains unclear. Montgomery has also kept a somewhat low profile over the course of her career, and unlike other New York City colleagues facing strong primary challenges has not yet received financial support from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.


Sen. Shirley Huntley vs. Lynn Nunes

Shirley Huntley, a two-term incumbent, faces a strong challenger from the 25-year-old Lynn Nunes, who with almost no institutional support nearly beat 14-year New York City Council Member Tom White last year. This time, pro-same-sex marriage groups have mostly lined up behind Nunes—Huntley voted against the same sex marriage bill—as have charter school supporters.

As a result, Nunes has a strong fundraising lead over the incumbent senator. Still, Huntley has the backing of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and Senate conference leader John Sampson. She also is expected to pull heavily from the district’s socially conservative black churches, who will likely only be emboldened by alleged death threats against Huntley. But with all the forces behind Nunes, the race represents the primary race that many believe very likely to flip from incumbent to challenger this year.


Sen. Bill Perkins vs. Basil Smikle

The race in Harlem between Bill Perkins and Basil Smikle is being viewed both by the teachers unions and charter school supporters as the main battleground between the two opposing ideologies, with the teachers pouring money into Perkins’ coffers and hedge fund managers strongly backing Smikle, a political consultant.

Perkins has been highly visible in the Harlem district—most recently taking on its rat infestations—but has a tense relationship with some of its old guard, including Assembly Member and Manhattan party boss Keith Wright. Perkins, for instance, called for Govs. David Paterson to resign earlier this year, while Wright was one of the governor’s strongest backers. The two are also both eyeing embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel’s congressional seat, so Perkins’s margin of victory will need to be large to help him in that future contest. Real estate interests are also supporting Smikle, as they remain upset with Perkins over a 2004 lead paint law that Perkins sponsored.


Adriano Espaillat vs. Mark Levine vs. Anna Lewis vs. Miosotis Muñoz

The big question surrounding the race to replace Sen. Eric Schneiderman, running for attorney general this year, is whether the office will be won by another white candidate, or whether the district’s changing demographics will usher in the seat’s first Dominican official. Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat is banking on the latter.

A majority of the city’s political establishment has come out in support of Espaillat, who was the first ever Dominican official elected to state office in New York. But press reports about shady dealings between the assemblyman and a non-profit he funds may cloud his chances and allow district leader Mark Levine an opening. The race so far has been heated, with accusations of plagiarism, calls for investigations, and A-list Hollywood celebrities weighing in (Levine is receiving support from both Ed Norton and Matt Damon).

Meanwhile, Anna Lewis, a lawyer with the city Health Department, is angling to pick up support among the city’s gay rights groups.


Sen. Neil Breslin vs. Luke Martland

Former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Luke Martland is trying to push seven-term incumbent Democrat Neil Breslin off the ballot.

Although Breslin has spoken out against corruption in Albany, Martland is running against him on a reform platform, citing the incumbent’s seven terms as proof of his entrenchment in the state’s broken politics, as well as Breslin’s refusal to disclose his client list from his outside job as an attorney.

Martland narrowly avoided a three-way race with petition candidate Tim Carney, who was knocked off the ballot after Martland challenged his petition signatures. Notably, Martland, who is openly gay, did not receive the endorsement of the Empire State Pride Agenda, one of the state’s most powerful LGBT interest groups. The endorsement went instead to Breslin, who voted for gay marriage last year.


Tom O’Mara or Jim Bacalles vs. Pam Mackesey

Upstate Republican State Assembly members Tom O’Mara and Jim Bacalles have run a civil race so far for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. George Winner. Both candidates have called for a convention to reform the state’s constitution, and are vying to run against Democratic candidate Pam Mackesey, a Tompkins County legislator. O’Mara has been in Assembly since 2004, and Bacalles since 1995. O’Mara has raised $32,994 in his campaign. Bacalles has raised about half that amount, according to campaign finance disclosures.

While local Democrats are trying to portray both O’Mara and Bacalles as part of the problem in Albany, most observers predict that the seat will stay in Republican hands.


Jim Domagalski or Pat Gallivan or David DiPietro vs. Cynthia Appleton

There is a three-way GOP showdown to fill retiring GOP Sen. Dale Volker’s Western New York seat between former Erie County Republican Committee Chair Jim Domagalski, former Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan and David DiPietro, the former Mayor of East Aurora. The Republicans are battling for the right to face lone Democratic challenger Cynthia Appleton. Domagalski made headlines late last month when he announced he would also be running on the Independence Party line.

All three Republicans are trying to claim the mantle of reform, as well as the Tea Party mantle, though none to can seem to agree who has the best claim. Domagalski is outpacing his opponents in fundraising.


Sen. Hugh Farley vs. Susan Savage

Susan Savage, the 48-year-old chair of the Schenectady County Democratic Legislature, is one of 10 women vying to unseat older multi-term incumbents. Savage, who is pledging to reform Albany’s dysfunction, has set her sights on Republican Sen. Hugh Farley, a 78-year-old, 18-term legislator.

Savage, who has nine children, will have to fight to take down Farley, who despite the increase of Democratic voters in the 44th district and has not lost a race in decades—even against challengers with substantial funds.

Still, Farley is not taking the challenge lying down, pledging recently to run harder than ever before. Savage responded by posting fundraising numbers in July that outpaced Farley’s numbers, though the incumbent has more cash on hand.


Sen. Kenneth LaValle vs. Regina Calcaterra

Once seen as the Democrats best chances at flipping a Republican seat, the race has now been thrown for a loop, with Calcaterra, an attorney who bought a home outside Philadelphia while helping prosecute the WorldCom case, recently booted from the ballot over questions about her residency. Calcaterra is appealing the decision. And given the judge’s sympathy towards her in his written decision, there is a general sense that she will end up back on the ballot.

Meanwhile, LaValle is counting on his name recognition and generosity with member items to provide an easy path to re-election. A 33-year veteran of the Senate, LaValle was instrumental in creating New York’s STAR property tax relief program. The stadium at Stony Brook University bears his name.

As of mid-July, LaValle had over $269,000 on hand, while Calcaterra reported having more than $178,000.


Sen. Kemp Hannon vs. Dave Mejias

Dave Mejias is not letting the local perception of his race against Nassau County Sen. Kemp Hannon as unwinnable hold him back.

Mejias, a former county legislator, has already picked up a slew of prominent endorsements, including the New York League of Conservation Voters, NARAL Pro-Choice New York, and the Working Families Party. Mejias lost his seat in 2009, the same year County Executive Tom Suozzi went down in a stunning defeat to a Republican challenger.

Mejias backed out of challenging Hannon in 2008, only to watch the incumbent hold onto his seat by the skin of his teeth against Kristen McElroy.

Hannon is not taking the challenge lightly. He loaned his campaign $60,000 two days before the July filing deadline, a sign to some Democrats that the GOP is nervous about the race.


Sen. Craig Johnson vs. Jack Martins

Showing up at Jack Martins’s campaign office launch party in early August is just one sign of how much Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos wants Craig Johnson out of his backyard.

Johnson, whose 2007 special election victory is seen as the first of several races that handed the Senate majority to the Democrats, is banking on his advocacy for a property tax cap and centrism on a number of his conference’s more liberal proposals will be enough to ensure his re-election.

Martins, the mayor of Mineola Village in Nassau, has raised over $200,000 so far, no small feat when he will be facing Johnson and his $435,000 war chest. Johnson is also receiving support from prominent education reformers, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for his support of lifting the charter school cap.

Martins previously challenged Rep. Carolyn McCarthy in 2008, but lost by over 25 points.


Sen. Steve Saland vs. Didi Barrett

Senate Democrats are painting Stephen Saland as the cause of all of the state’s budget woes, and Didi Barrett as the bright, shining solution.

Of course, their race is not so simple. Saland’s most recent filings (still listed under “Saland For Senate ’94”) show the incumbent with over $280,000 on hand. Barrett is not far behind, with $161,000 in her coffers.

Saland is a 20-year incumbent who served in the Assembly for ten years prior to moving to the Senate. If elected, Barrett would be the first Democrat to hold the seat in 100 years. The last was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Sen. Roy McDonald vs. Joanne Yepsen

Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s old district has become a battleground for control over the chamber this year.

Saratoga Springs Supervisor Joanne Yepsen is challenging Bruno’s replacement, Roy McDonald. Yepsen was unable to get on the ballot two years ago after running short on the required number of signatures. This year, though, she is very much in the race and even out-raising McDonald. She has also picked up some key endorsements, like from the New York League of Conservation Voters.

McDonald, meanwhile, is raising money from his Senate Republican colleagues, as well as labor groups like the AFL-CIO and the state teachers union.

Republicans have a slim enrollment edge in the district, but Democrats are hoping to pull off an upset.


Sen. John DeFrancisco vs. Kathleen Joy

John DeFrancisco, a 18-year veteran of the Senate, has faced a challenger in all but one of his nine elections, and none have been close. Kathleen Joy is hoping to be an exception to that rule.

Joy currently serves as a member of the Syracuse Common Council, a position DeFrancisco himself held before running for Senate. Lately, she has been turning up the heat on the Republican incumbent, assailing him for being one of four “no” votes on an anti-bullying measure that came before the Senate this session. A practicing attorney, Kathleen is general counsel to a title company and residential mortgage lender.

DeFrancisco, also a practicing attorney, is well-known in Central New York for bringing home millions in member items for community groups. Senate Democrats, though, know him as the GOP’s “pit bull.”


Sen. Jim Alesi vs. Mary Wilmot

With mayoral control of Rochester city schools providing an interesting backdrop, Sen. Jim Alesi will face-off against Mary Wilmot, regional director to the governor and State Senate. Wilmot has called on Alesi to support the measure, which would give Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy (who is also Andrew Cuomo’s running mate this year) control over the school system while dissolving the local school board. Alesi, a Democrat-turned-Republican, has said he has concerns about who will control the system after Duffy leaves his post, presumably to become the state’s lieutenant governor.

Wilmot, though, is lagging behind Alesi in campaign cash, having only $98,000 on hand as of mid-July, compared to Alesi’s $305,000.


Sen. Pedro Espada vs. Gustavo Rivera vs. Daniel Padernacht

Scandal-scarred Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr.’s re-election is shaping up to be the most closely watched primary race in the city this year. Laboring under the weight of multiple investigations into his private business dealings, Espada is running against not only his primary opponents—labor-backed frontrunner Gustavo Rivera and attorney Daniel Padernacht—but also his own ignominious reputation as a symbol for Albany dysfunction.

Liberal groups like the Working Families Party and reformers like Bill Samuels are ready to pour money into Rivera’s account in the hopes of ousting Espada. But Espada has a money advantage, name-recognition, and penchant for running knuckle-bruising campaigns. Plus, Padernacht’s refusal to drop out the race may split the anti-Espada vote, which could give the Bronx pol another two-year term.


Sen. Bill Stachowski or Tim Kennedy vs. Jack Quinn

If Democrats lose control of the Senate this year, it could be Bill Stachowski’s fault. The Buffalo Democrat’s surprisingly close race in 2008 made him a prime target for Republicans itching to win back the chamber this year. Unfortunately for Stachowski, he will have to face not one, but two opponents this year. First is Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Council member with support from both gay rights groups and the Erie County Conservative Party, who will be running against Stachowski in the September primary. If Stachowski prevails, he will face Assembly Member Jack Quinn III, a well-known, well-financed Republican.

Still, Stachowski, a 29-year veteran, is hoping his vocal support for a SUNY empowerment plan, which failed to pass this session, will distinguish himself in the race. If he loses, though, his part-time job coaching varsity high school football could become full-time.


Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. vs. Charlie Ramos

Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. is not too worried about political newcomer Charlie Ramos’s primary challenge, but he is miffed that Ramos, a political activist and former aide to Comptroller Bill Thompson, had the gall to run in the first place. He has accused his fellow Bronx pol Assembly Member Peter Rivera of propping up Ramos’s campaign, something both Rivera and Ramos deny.

Ramos is counting on support from the state’s pro-marriage equality advocates to buoy his candidacy to victory. Diaz, one of the Senate’s most outspoken opponents to gay marriage, has become public enemy no. 1 for many gay activists. But Diaz is counting on his strong support in the district, especially among evangelical voters, immigrants and conservative Democrats, to send him back to Albany.

Diaz’s race has become a flashpoint for Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, who is under extreme pressure from gay rights groups to abandon his support for Diaz.


Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer vs. Bob Cohen

Democratic Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer has been in the State Senate for 25 years as a representative of Westchester County. This year, she has a formidable challenger in Republican Bob Cohen, a real estate and construction business owner, who has mounted an aggressive and well-funded campaign. He made an issue of Oppenheimer’s receipt of an endorsement from the embattled-but-powerful Working Families Party, under investigation for its work in New York City’s 2009 elections.

Cohen has also called for Oppenheimer to commit to a two percent property tax cap—the senator voted for a four percent measure that failed in the Assembly last week. Her campaign has remained largely silent in response to most of Cohen’s attacks.

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