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New York

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The Politics of New York State tend to be more liberal than in most of the rest of the United States, with in recent decades a solid majority of Democratic voters, concentrated in New York City and its suburbs, and in the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. Republican voters, in the minority, are concentrated in more rural Upstate New York, particularly in the Adirondack Mountains, the Finger Lakes area and in parts of the Hudson Valley. Despite the imbalance in registration, New York voters have shown a willingness to elect relatively centrist Republicans to local offices, though not in the Presidential election.


State political offices and electoral trends

Party trends and geography

The balance of the parties was formerly less decided, with a large Democratic majority in populous New York City, Rochester and Buffalo, but Republican dominance in the upstate and Long Island. Historically, the only Democratic outpost in upstate New York was Albany. In recent years, with the political transformation of former Republican strongholds of Long Island, the Hudson Valley and the Syracuse area, New York has grown more reliably Democratic. In particular, Nassau County and Westchester County currently have Democratic county executives for only the second time in a few decades.

The enrollment of the various parties in New York State is as follows, according to the New York State Board of Elections annual report of 2006:

  • Democratic: 5,507,928
  • Republican: 3,130,122
  • Independence: 345,957
  • Conservative: 154,202
  • Liberal: 66,672
  • Right to Life: 40,278
  • Green: 35,900
  • Working Families: 34,289
  • Libertarian: 1,061

Party balance in state legislatures

Democrats hold a 63-seat supermajority in the Assembly, whose current speaker is Sheldon Silver of lower Manhattan. They have been in the majority since 1975 and for all but five years since 1959.

The Republicans controlled the State Senate from 1939 until 2008, with the exception of a brief period in 1965. However, in 2008, the Democrats won a narrow three-seat majority in the State Senate. The Senate Majority Leader is Malcolm Smith of Queens, who also doubles as acting Lieutenant Governor by virtue of David Paterson ascending to the governorship. Smith replaced Paterson as leader of the Democrats in the State Senate upon Paterson's election as Lieutenant Governor. The Minority Leader is Dean Skelos of Nassau County.

While the Assembly's apportionment strongly favors New York City, Buffalo, Rochester and the Capital District, the Senate's apportionment strongly favors the more conservative Upstate. However, the Republicans have lost many Senate seats in recent years because of the aforementioned political realignments of the New York City suburbs, Long Island and Syracuse. Even when the Democrats won control of the State Senate in 2008, they only won five seats in the Upstate and two seats on Long Island.

2006 elections

The current governor of New York is David Paterson, Eliot Spitzer's former Lieutenant Governor. Spitzer won the 2006 election but recently announced his resignation from the position of Governor due to his involvement in a prostitution ring. He was elected by a large margin in 2006. Both U.S. Senators are Democrats, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The previous Governor was a Republican, George Pataki, who defeated incumbent Democrat Mario Cuomo in 1994 and was re-elected twice by wide margins. Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato served until he was defeated in 1998 and before him long-time Senator Jacob Javits also served as a Republican, although he ran as a Liberal in 1980. Republican Congressmen William E. Miller and Jack Kemp were both from New York and were running mates for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Bob Dole in 1996 respectively (though Kemp's appearance on the ballot occurred after his service in Congress). Despite the strong Democratic presence in New York City, Republican Rudolph Giuliani served two terms as mayor, and Michael Bloomberg was elected as a Republican twice, the first time being in 2001 and then again in 2005. He has since become an independent.

In 2006, Democrats made gains across the state, building on their existing majority. While Democrats had already been a strong force in the New York City area, most of the Democratic gains in 2006 occurred upstate. Democrat Eliot Spitzer won a landslide victory to replace George Pataki as Governor, defeating John Faso 69-29%—the second-largest victory for a statewide candidate in New York history. Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton, Andrew Cuomo and Alan Hevesi won the US Senate, Attorney General and State Comptroller races by wide margins respectively. For the first time in over 60 years, all major statewide elected offices are held by Democrats.

Republicans kept control of the State Senate, but lost the seat of Republican Nicholas Spano in Westchester County, and lost a Long Island seat in a 2007 special election, and an upstate seat in 2008. Democrats also gained three seats to build on their supermajority in the State Assembly. Republicans did gain a seat in the Assembly in 2007 in a special election in Upstate New York.

Democrats also won three Republican held congressional seats, all in Upstate New York. Democrat Michael Arcuri won the open seat of retiring Republican Sherwood Boehlert in the 24th Congressional District, which stretches across Central New York from Utica to Oneonta to the Finger Lakes. Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand defeated Republican incumbent John Sweeney in the 20th Congressional District, which includes Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls and takes in most of the upper Hudson Valley. Democrat John Hall defeated Republican incumbent Sue Kelly in the 19th Congressional district in the Lower Hudson Valley outside New York City. Of the nine Republican incumbents up for reelection in 2006, only one, John McHugh in the 23rd district (the far northern region of the state) managed to win reelection with over 60% of the vote. Republicans James Walsh of Syracuse, Tom Reynolds of Clarence and Randy Kuhl of Bath all won re-election by narrow margins.

2008 elections

New York state elections, 2008

Current issues

Same-sex marriage is not performed in the state; however, it is recognized. Since 2004 the public pension systems of both the state and New York City allocate benefits in recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside New York. Former Governor Eliot Spitzer stated he would introduce legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. On April 27, 2007 then-Governor Spitzer unveiled such bill. In May 2008, Governor David Paterson issued a directive that the state recognize same-sex marriages that were approved elsewhere.[1]

New York and national politics

Democrats Al Smith, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and W. Averell Harriman served as governor, as did Republicans Thomas Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller, who was elected four times. Progressive Republican Teddy Roosevelt was Governor of New York before being elected Vice President in 1900.

Congressional delegation

New York's delegation to the House of Representatives leans strongly Democratic. In fact, Republicans have not held a majority of New York House seats since the 1950s. This is due almost entirely to the Democrats' near-total domination of local politics in New York City, which is split between 13 of the state's 29 districts. Historically, Republicans had a fighting chance to win three districts. However, aside from Staten Island, Republicans have not been competitive in the city's districts since the early 1990s. With the victory of Michael McMahon for the open seat in the Staten Island-based 13th District, Democrats now hold every seat in New York City—something which hasn't happened in over 70 years.

With the defeats of Republican incumbents Sue Kelly and John Sweeney and a Democratic victory in the open seat of Sherwood Boehlert in 2006, New York sent 23 Democrats and six Republicans to the 110th Congress. Two years later, Randy Kuhl was unseated by Eric Massa in the 29th District, and Dan Maffei won the seat of retiring Jim Walsh in the Syracuse area. As a result, New York sent 26 Democrats and three Republicans to the 111th Congress. The number of Republicans is the fewest that have ever represented New York in the House, and only a fourth of the number New York sent to that body only a decade ago. In addition to holding every seat in New York City, Democrats hold all but one seat on Long Island, and hold every House seat in the Hudson Valley.

This recent Democratic dominance may be explained by the increasing conservatism of the national Republican Party. With few exceptions, upstate New York and Long Island have historically been dominated by a moderate brand of Republicanism, similar to that of neighboring New England. Since the early 1990s, many voters in traditional Republican strongholds such as Long Island, Syracuse and the Hudson Valley have been willing to support Democratic candidates at the national level. In addition to New York City, Democrats have a nearly unbreakable hold on local politics in Rochester, the Capital District and Buffalo. New York City, for instance, has not been carried by a Republican presidential candidate since 1924. The other three areas only support Republican presidential candidates during landslides.

U.S. Senators

Currently, New York is represented in the U.S. Senate by Chuck Schumer of Brooklyn and Kirsten Gillibrand of Columbia County, both Democrats.

Over last five decades, New York has elected Democratic Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Robert F. Kennedy as well as Republican Senators Jacob K. Javits, Alfonse D'Amato and Conservative Senator James Buckley. New York politics have recently been dominated by downstate areas such as Westchester County, New York City and Long Island, where a majority of the state's population resides. Before the appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate in 2009, the most recent US Senator from upstate was Charles Goodell, appointed to fill out the remainder of Robert F. Kennedy's term, serving from 1968-1970. Goodell was from Jamestown). The most recently elected upstate resident was Kenneth Keating, elected in 1958. Keating was from the Rochester area.

Schumer's victory over Republican Alfonse D'Amato in 1998 gave the Democrats both of the state's Senate seats for the first time since 1946. In 2004, conservative Michael Benjamin battled with the New York Republican State Committee for a chance to run against Schumer, which decided in August 2004 there would be no primary and selected moderate Assemblyman Howard Mills as the Republican candidate.[2] Benjamin publicly accused New York GOP Chairman Sandy Treadwell and Governor George Pataki of trying to muscle him out of the Senate race and undermine the democratic process.[3] Many Republican voters were upset when Benjamin was denied the chance to engage in a primary.[4] Benjamin also had significant advantages over Mills in both fundraising and organization.[5] Schumer won the largest victory ever recorded for a candidate running statewide in New York against Mills, carrying all but one of the state's counties.

Many New York Republicans were irked again in 2006 when a similar situation unfolded as the state party decided to nominate Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro over conservative lawyer Ed Cox, even though Cox had raised over 1.3 million dollars to Pirro's $400,000.[2] In 2006, Clinton won the third largest victory ever recorded statewide, carrying all but four counties. In both cases, Schumer and Clinton didn't face serious opposition. There has not been a Republican primary for Senator since 1990.[4]

Presidential elections

In the past, New York was a powerful swing state, forcing presidential candidates to invest a large amount of money and time campaigning there. New York State gave small margins of victory to Democrats John F. Kennedy in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Michael Dukakis in 1988, as well as Republicans Herbert Hoover in 1928, Thomas Dewey in 1948 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Until the 1970 United States Census, it had the most votes in the U.S. Electoral College.

Today, although New York is still the third largest prize in the Electoral College with 31 votes, it is usually considered an uncontested "blue state"--meaning that it is presumed safe for the Democrats. The last time a Republican made a serious effort in the state was George H.W. Bush in 1988. Since 1992, the national Republican Party has effectively ceded New York to the Democrats. In addition, despite having a Republican governor for 12 years, New York appears to have trended more Democratic.

Even in the days when New York was considered a swing state, it had a slight Democratic lean. It has only supported a Republican for president six times since the Great Depression--in 1944, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1972 and 1984. Republicans had to do reasonably well in Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester while holding down their deficits in New York City to have a realistic chance of carrying the state.

The challenges of New York presidential candidates

New York politicians have historically tended to loom large on the national political scene, reflecting the importance of the state, and more presidential candidates have been governor of New York than anything else. Although local politicians are often prominently featured in the national media, because of New York's current political orientation they face some special challenges when seeking national office.

Prominent Republicans like Pataki and Giuliani tend to be moderate on most social issues. This poses substantial electoral difficulties in more conservative states, especially in the South. Even if a New York Republican could win the New York primary, the possibility of winning a very Democratic home state in the general election would still be a great challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity.

Prominent Democrats, such as Senators Schumer and Clinton, though often among the leaders of the national party, have little to offer in home-state advantage in a general election where the state is already presumed Democratic. Indeed, it would usually be considered a serious tactical and strategic blunder for a Democratic presidential candidate to select a running mate from New York. They would also be presumed as being too liberal for the tastes of other states.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Remember Senate 2004, November 20, 2005.
  3. ^ Senate hopeful claims GOP bosses snubbed him. Albany Times-Union, February 25, 2004.
  4. ^ a b Petition to Open the NY Republican Primary for Senator, retrieved on July 19, 2007.
  5. ^ He's Spoiling for a Chance to Take On Schumer. Hernandez, Raymond. New York Times, November 10, 2003.

See also

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