2017-08-11 / View From Here


The NY political scene

As this is written, I am celebrating the infamous birthday discussed in last week's column in Saratoga Springs with a group of friends.

One highlight of the trip was obtaining a paddock pass at the racetrack. This was the first time in my 30 years of attending races here that I was able to get so close to the horses and jockeys as they prepare for the post. Very interesting.

This evening will commence the Saratoga yearling auction, where optimistic buyers from all over the world can be expected to bid the sales prices of a few promising horses well above the $1 million level. The sales are an excellent spectator event even for those of us not possessed of the resources to purchase an keep a thoroughbred.

My trip upstate seems like a good opportunity to take another look at politics in New York State. It is sometimes hard to remember on a trip upstate that the relatively bucolic counties that you encounter are just as much a part of New York State as the bustling downstate counties of New York City and its suburbs. But New York is a big and diverse state and the policies adopted in Albany makes a big difference to millions of people all the way from Niagara Falls to Montauk Point.

In the very immediate future, there are a number of important votes in New York State on the November 2017 ballot, including the county executive elections in Nassau and Westchester counties and the New York City mayoral race, where, despite a lackluster tenure, Mayor Bill de Blasio has the advantage of a huge Democratic registration advantage as he seeks re-election.

Perhaps the most important issue on the ballot in the fall, however, is whether to assemble a convention to propose, subject to later ratification by the voters, some changes in the state constitution. (A referendum on this subject is required every 20 years.) As discussed in a previous column, given the rather low repute of much of the state government, there is considerable merit to a constitutional convention. However, in light of the strong desire of a number of interest groups in preserving at all costs a some existing provisions in the state constitution (for example relating to pension rights of state workers), approval of the constitutional convention seems doubtful.

Even more action will occur in 2018. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who may have his eye on the White House, will be seeking reelection. There are a number of potential Republican challengers, including his 2014 opponent, Rob Astorino, Harry Wilson and John DeFrancisco. The governor also may face a Democratic primary challenger, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner.

While Governor Cuomo is the clear favorite in the race, and has a sizable campaign war chest, this race may be more difficult than his prior two runs. In 2014, Mr. Astorino ran pretty well outside of New York City, but was overwhelmed in the city. Right now, however, city residents are very unhappy about the subway system, and have directed some of their displeasure at Mr. Cuomo, who has effective control of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

There also will be significant races down ballot next year. Democrats are hoping for a wave election nationwide next year, giving them control of the House of Representatives. Among their larger targets will be in New York State, where a number of the nine House seats currently held by the GOP are in marginal districts.

And last, but definitely not least, regular Democrats will make one more attempt to gain numerical control of the state senate, the one bulwark of Republican power in state government, currently in GOP hands by a razor thin margin. A complicating factor here is the Independent Democratic Caucus, a renegade group of state senators that for now has allied itself with chamber Republicans.

In short, whether you live in Saratoga Springs, New York City or Nassau County, state political developments will be of considerable importance in the next two years.

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