Politics of New York

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The Politics of New York State tend to be more liberal than in most of the United States, with in recent decades a solid majority of Democratic voters, concentrated in New York City and some of 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 Alleghany Mountains, Central New York, and in parts of the Hudson Valley as well as parts on Long Island . 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[edit]

Party trends and geography[edit]

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 the eastern part of 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, Westchester County currently has a Democratic county legislature for only the second time in a few decades.

Unlike most states, New York electoral law permits electoral fusion; thus New York ballots tend to show a larger number of parties. Some are permanent minor parties that seek to influence the major parties, while others are ephemeral parties formed to give major-party candidates an additional line on the ballot.

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 (59.1%)
  • Republican: 3,130,122 (33.6%)
  • Independence: 345,957 (3.7%)
  • Conservative: 154,202 (1.7%)
  • Liberal: 66,672 (0.7%)
  • Right to Life: 40,278 (0.4%)
  • Green: 35,900 (0.4%)
  • Working Families: 34,289 (0.4%)
  • Libertarian: 1,061 (0.01%)

Party balance in state legislatures[edit]

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 Assembly has long been controlled by the Democrats, the Senate by the Republicans, and there was little change in membership in elections until those of 2008. As a result, decisions are taken when "three men in a room"—the Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Governor—agree.[1] For many years the legislature was unable to pass legislation for which there was supposed to be a consensus, such as reforming the so-called Rockefeller drug laws.

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 two-seat majority in the State Senate. Malcolm Smith of Queens became the new Senate Majority Leader, and he 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. After a brief period in June and July 2009 in which Republicans regained control of the chamber, Democrats chose Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx who flipped to the Republicans as their new Majority Leader in order to regain control. John L. Sampson of Brooklyn became the Democratic conference leader, while Malcolm Smith retained his position as President Pro Tempore, and acting Lieutenant Governor.

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[edit]

Former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer won the 2006 election but announced his resignation on March 11, 2008, 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 in the 1990s, and Michael Bloomberg was elected as a Republican twice, the first time being in 2001 and then again in 2005. He became an independent to be narrowly re-elected to his third and final term in 2009. However, in 2013, Democrat Bill de Blasio won back the mayoralty of New York City for his party with over 73% of the vote.

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.

2010 elections[edit]

New York state elections, 2010

In the 2010 elections, Republicans made a few substantial gains in New York, re-taking control of the New York State Senate and taking six U.S. House seats held by Democrats, the most House gains by the Republican Party in any state during this election cycle. Republicans won over the 13th, 19th, 20th, 24th, 25th, and 29th congressional districts from the Democrats.

Current issues[edit]

Same-sex marriage was legalized in June 2011.[2] Previously, same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions had been recognized: in May 2008, Governor David Paterson issued an affirmative that the state would recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. In December 2009, the senate declined to pass a same-sex marriage bill, though polling earlier that year had indicated that a majority of New Yorkers supported allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the state.[3][4] 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 a bill.

From 1984 through 2004, no budget was passed on time. The state has a strong imbalance of payments with the federal government. New York State receives 82 cents in services for every $1 it sends to Washington in taxes. The state ranks near the bottom, in 42nd place, in federal spending per tax dollar. For decades, it has been the established practice for the state to pass legislation for some meritorious project, but then mandate county and municipal government to actually pay for it. New York State has its counties pay a higher percentage of welfare costs than any other state, and New York State is the only state which requires counties to pay a portion of Medicaid.

New York and national politics[edit]

New York State has consistently voted Democratic in national elections. However, New York City has been the most important source of political fund-raising in the United States for both major parties. Four of the top five zip codes in the nation for political contributions are in Manhattan. The top zip code, 10021 on the Upper East Side, generated the most money for the 2000 presidential campaigns of both George Bush and Al Gore. Republican Presidential candidates have often skipped campaigning in the state, taking it as a loss and focusing on vital swing states.

Many of the state's other urban areas, including Albany, Ithaca, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse are also Democratic. Upstate New York, especially in rural areas, is generally more conservative than the cities and historically tended to vote Republican, although Democrats have made dramatic gains upstate in recent elections, and today the region is much more evenly split. Heavily populated suburban areas such as Westchester County and Long Island have swung from reliably Republican to reliably Democratic in federal elections over the past 25 years, although local races there are still often tightly contested.

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 Theodore Roosevelt was Governor of New York before being elected Vice President in 1900.

Congressional delegation[edit]

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. However, in 2010, the Republicans reclaimed 6 seats. Five were in the Upstate, and one was on Staten Island. They also came within a few hundred votes of unseating 1st district incumbent Tim Bishop of Suffolk County. In 2011, The Democrats won a special election in New York's 26th congressional district, which means that at every seat with the exception of the 3rd congressional district, has elected a Democratic representative at least once in the past ten years.

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[edit]

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

Over the last five decades, New York has elected Democratic Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Robert F. Kennedy, and Hillary Rodham Clinton 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 to 1970. Goodell was from (Jamestown). Before the election of Kirsten Gillibrand in 2010, the last senator from upstate to be elected was Kenneth Keating of Rochester, in 1958.

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.[5] 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.[6] Many Republican voters were upset when Benjamin was denied the chance to engage in a primary.[7] Benjamin also had significant advantages over Mills in both fundraising and organization.[8] 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 to Pirro's $400,000.[5] 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.

New York's Democratic tilt also continued into 2010, even when Democrats were suffering heavy losses all around the country. Chuck Schumer easily defeated Jay Townsend to win a third term in the U.S. Senate with 66 percent of the vote. With both Senate seats up in New York, the media was more focused on the Class I seat because when Kirsten Gillibrand was first appointed in 2009, she initially looked very vulnerable due of her A+ rating from the NRA from when she was representing a rural upstate district. That rating was not well received by downstate residents when she was first appointed to the Senate.[9] Then Gillibrand immediately changed her position on the issue of gun control after she was appointed to satisfy the concerns from downstate residents. She then went on to win the special election easily with 62 percent of the vote in 2010. In 2012, Gillibrand was re-elected in a landslide with more than 72% of the vote, the highest statewide vote share ever received by a senatorial candidate in New York State.[10]

Presidential elections[edit]

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. John Kerry won New York State by 18 percentage points in 2004, while Al Gore won by an even greater 25-point margin in New York State in 2000, giving Gore his second highest total in the nation. Bill Clinton twice scored his third best performance in New York in 1992 and 1996. In the 2008 Presidential Election Barack Obama carried New York with 62.9% of the vote, making it the third most Democratic state in that election, surpassed only by Hawaii and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia. In 2012, Obama carried New York by an even greater margin, taking 63.4% of the vote to Republican Mitt Romney's 35.2%, again making it the third most Democratic state in the nation. [11]

Today, although New York (along with Florida) is still the third largest prize in the Electoral College with 29 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 1948, 1952, 1956, 1972, 1980 and 1984. Republicans have 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. New York has not voted Republican since Ronald Reagan in the 1984 election (53% - 45%), and is certain to stay solidly Democratic for a very long time.

The challenges of New York presidential candidates[edit]

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 Republican nomination, 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 Senator Schumer and former Senator 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.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Three men in a room
  2. ^ Wiessner, Dan (June 25, 2011). "New York governor signs law approving gay marriage". Reuters. 
  3. ^ Bases, Daniel (June 23, 2009). "New Yorkers supportive of gay marriage: poll". Reuters. 
  4. ^ http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1318.xml?ReleaseID=1340
  5. ^ a b Remember Senate 2004, November 20, 2005.
  6. ^ Senate hopeful claims GOP bosses snubbed him. Albany Times-Union, February 25, 2004.
  7. ^ Petition to Open the NY Republican Primary for Senator, retrieved on July 19, 2007.
  8. ^ He's Spoiling for a Chance to Take On Schumer. Hernandez, Raymond. New York Times, November 10, 2003.
  9. ^ Berman, John (2011-01-23). "Paterson Taps Gillibrand for Clinton's Senate Seat". Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  10. ^ "2012 Senatorial Election Results - New York". Dave Leip's Election Atlas. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 
  11. ^ "NYS Board of Elections President and Vice-President Election Returns Nov. 6, 2012". Retrieved 6 March 2014.