New York's Disparate Democrats Unite to Celebrate Mayer's Victory

April 25, 2018


MAMARONECK — For a night, New York’s warring Democrats were united.

At a party celebrating Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer’s victory in a hard-fought state Senate special election in Westchester on Tuesday night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo shook hands and took selfies with a crowd that included the sorts of liberals who have bedeviled him throughout his tenure. A onetime member of the late IDC warmed up the audience with two mainline Democrats. The unions that founded the Working Families Party cheered with the activists that now help drive the party’s agenda.

“We were a big tent blue wave that created a partnership between our progressives, our Democrats, our union leadership, our women activists, and you know what, a lot of other people who rejected the politics of hate and divisiveness that were so important to the other side in this campaign," Mayer said. "We made the big tent that really made the difference."

The diverse group of Democrats certainly had reason to be jubilant. While the party has held the seat for more than three decades, it was redrawn to be more Republican-friendly in 2012, and Mayer predecessor George Latimer had prevailed by margins as low as 52 percent in the past few elections. With about 87 percent of polling sites reporting a little before midnight on Tuesday, Mayer was ahead 58-42.

Both campaigns stuck to mostly typical messaging on issues like corruption, taxes, and the philosophy of the Republican Party under President Donald Trump. But the narrative of the race was dominated by the idea that it could give Democrats a majority in the Senate, giving the party control of each of the three sections of government that negotiate legislation. In the past, that idea has certainly scared away voters in New York City’s suburbs, who like to vote Democratic in national and statewide elections but have sought balance in the state Legislature, letting Republicans maintain control of the Senate in an otherwise solidly blue state.

Mayer’s victory in a race in which the idea of Democratic dominance was ever-present helped sustain arguments that a “blue wave” will help the party to significant victories during the Trump presidency.

“What happened last November is being sustained five months later,” Latimer said. “In this suburb of New York City, there’s definitely a reaction to the national Republican policy.”

“This is going to send a message,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said in a phone call to the victory party. “As you know we’re working hard to take back the [U.S.] Senate, take back the House, so we can prevent Donald Trump from doing the things he’s been trying to do, and the message you have sent from Westchester with Shelley’s resounding victory will not only help us in Albany, but help us in Washington as well.”

Assuming the feeling of the suburban electorate lasts another six months, one big question remains: Will the “big tent” that helped propel Mayer to victory last, or will Democrats engage in their perennial circular firing squad that has repeatedly blocked slam-dunk paths to the Senate majority in the past? Certainly, divisions are already visible — Cuomo is facing the best-organized challenge from the left he’s encountered during his tenure, and the members of the former IDC will still need to face energized primary challengers.

“I don’t think they can get along,” Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif said. “They’ve proven that. They all have agendas.”

The Democrats who were at Mayer’s victory party, at least, were optimistic that they would heal their divisions.

“You see that people have been able to put their differences aside for the common good,” said state Sen. David Carlucci, a former IDC member who represents portions of the lower Hudson Valley. “I think what Trump has done has been to unite people to say, ‘Hey we’ve got to put together our minor differences to look at the big picture.’'"

“It’ll be sustainable through November and it’ll be sustainable for two years after that when Donald Trump’s on the ballot himself again,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, the head of his conference’s campaign arm. “You saw people who don’t necessarily get along all working together because the threat to the country and the threat to the state is that real. When that happens people are going to band together.”

“So I’m feeling very good about a permanent Democratic majority in the Senate,” he added.

The question of whether Democrats might take control of the Senate before the end of the session seemed closed earlier in the day. Democratic state Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn reiterated his commitment to the Republican conference, allowing it to have 32 of the chamber’s 63 members.

“I believe it is my obligation to prevent an unprecedented and uncertain late session political battle that will only hurt my constituents and New Yorkers,” Felder said in a statement earlier on Tuesday.

Cuomo, for his part, has continued to say the decision hasn’t been finalized and discussions with Felder will continue.

“[W]e now have 32 registered Democrats under the leadership of Andrea Stewart-Cousins and we expect and believe 32 registered Democrats are going to come together and form a Democratic majority,” he said on Tuesday night.

The Senate’s Democrats, for the most part, have already turned their public focus to November’s elections rather than Wednesday’s negotiations. But they aren’t completely giving up hope on an late-session reunification.

“We’re the fastest growing conference,” joked Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy, who pointed to Democrats’ reunification with the IDC and Luis Sepulveda’s victory in a special election in the Bronx on Tuesday night. “Two weeks ago we had 21, now we have 31.”