In addition to electing a president, vice president, and members of Congress this year (and therefore determining the U.S. Supreme Court of the future), New Yorkers will be electing members of the State Legislature. A STRONG Democratic majority in the State Senate will make an enormous difference to tenants.
So please volunteer to work for Democratic candidates, and remember to vote! Below is the Tenant/Inquilino article listing the districts at stake. Each district is in red. Each candidate's name in blue has a link to his or her campaign. Please click on it and get involved.
Can the Democrats Take Control of the State Senate in November?
For decades, the New York State Senate has been a graveyard for pro-tenant legislation, as the Republican majority has blocked any significant reforms. This year, however, there is a strong chance that Democrats could win control of the Senate in November. It is a presidential election, and Democratic voters, who outnumber Republicans in New York by a wide margin, are much more likely to turn out in presidential elections than in off-year elections.
If tenants can help the Democrats win a genuine majority in the Senate, then enacting real rent reforms next year would, at long last, be possible. They could pass measures such as the repeal of vacancy deregulation without waiting until the state’s rent laws expire in June 2019.
The stakes for tenants are high. After some two decades of vacancy deregulation—22 years in New York City and 19 years in Westchester, Nassau, and Rockland counties—we have lost hundreds of thousands of affordable apartments, while rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments become more unaffordable every year.
If we do not flip the Senate this year, the likelihood of doing so in 2018, a non-presidential year, is slim. This is the year.
There are no competitive races for the Senate in New York City, as neither of the two Republican incumbents, Andrew Lanza of Staten Island and Martin Golden of Brooklyn, are vulnerable. The Democrats’ best chances of gaining seats—as well as the few races where they might lose seats—are on Long Island and upstate.
Here are some of the key races.
[CLICK ON THE CANDIDATES' NAMES TO LEARN MORE AND GET INVOLVED.]
NASSAU COUNTY (NEAR HEMPSTEAD) 6th District: This Nassau County district is probably the best chance the Democrats have to pick up a seat. Democrat Ryan Cronin is mounting a serious challenge to longtime GOP incumbent Kemp Hannon, who in 1993 sponsored the first legislation to deregulate vacant rent-stabilized apartments. The district has become more Democratic in party enrollment, and it includes a significant number of rent-regulated apartments, especially in the Village of Hempstead. This is the race where tenant volunteers can have the most impact.
NASSAU COUNTY (NORTHWEST SECTION) 7th District: GOP incumbent Jack Martins is running for Congress, and Democrat Adam Haber, who lost to him two years ago, is in a tight race against Flower Hill mayor Elaine Phillips. The northwestern Nassau district (Great Neck, Port Washington, Mineola) includes a dwindling number of voters who live in rent-stabilized apartments. They could play a crucial role.
NASSAU COUNTY (SOUTH SHORE) 9th District: Democrats won this district, on the south shore of Nassau, for the first time in more than 30 years on April 19, when tenants helped Todd Kaminsky of Long Beach win a special election to replace Majority Leader Dean Skelos after his conviction on corruption charges. Kaminsky faces a rematch with Republican trial lawyer Chris McGrath, whom he beat by 886 votes. He should be able to hold onto this seat, but will need help. There are pockets of rent-stabilized apartments, especially in Long Beach, Lynbrook and Rockville Centre, but many buildings are now half-deregulated.
LOWER WESTCHESTER 37th District: This lower Westchester County seat is held by George Latimer,possibly the only vulnerable Democratic incumbent. Latimer, a great friend of tenants, was first elected in 2012 after serving a decade in the Assembly. As leader of the county legislature in the 1990s, he engineered the appointment of several fair-minded public members of the county Rent Guidelines Board to replace a bunch of landlord stooges, and tenants benefited from lower rent increases. His Republican challenger is Julia Killian, a very conservative member of the Rye City Council, who has said she will spend $1.5 million of her own money on this race. Latimer, a dedicated campaigner who wears out several pairs of shoes door-knocking in every election, should win, but he will need help.
HUDSON VALLEY 41st District: Democrat Terry Gipson is running to reclaim this Hudson Valley seat, which he lost two years ago to Republican Sue Serino. Even though there are no rent-regulated apartments in the district, Gipson was steadfast in his support for tenants. This could be a Democratic pickup.
UPSTATE (North & East of Albany) 43rd District: Democrat and union leader Shaun Francis is challenging GOP incumbent Kathy Marchione, perhaps the most conservative member of the Senate. This district, east and north of Albany, was the home of former Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who did more to weaken rent regulations in 1997 and 2003 than anyone else in Albany. It will be an uphill battle, but Francis is running a vigorous campaign.
FROM MONTGOMERY & SCHENECTADY TO ULSTER 46th District: This district, on the west side of the Hudson River from Montgomery and Schenectady counties south to Ulster County, is the 63rd seat added by the Republicans in the 2012 redistricting. They tailored it for millionaire real-estate developer George Amedore, who lost by 18 votes to pro-tenant Cecelia Tkaczyk that year, but won the seat in 2014, when turnout was much lower. Democrat Sara Niccoli, a farmer who headed the Labor-Religious Coalition of New York State for several years, has a real shot at unseating Amedore.
BUFFALO AREA 60th District: Democratic incumbent Marc Panepinto, who has been a supporter of tenants, is not seeking a second term for this Buffalo-area seat. With Assemblymember Sean Ryan deciding to run for re-election, Amber Small, head of a Buffalo neighborhood association, might be the Democratic candidate. The GOP candidate will be Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs.
While there are no competitive Senate races in New York City in the general election, there are two Democratic primaries Sept. 13 where one candidate is clearly more pro-tenant.
WILLIAMSBURG 18th District: Debbie Medina, a longtime tenant organizer at Los Sures in Williamsburg, is challenging incumbent Martin Malavé Dilan in this Brooklyn district, which stretches from Williamsburg to East New York. As a City Councilmember in 1994, Dilan cast one of the deciding votes to enact vacancy decontrol, three years before the state expanded it. Medina, who ran a surprisingly strong challenge against him two years ago, was recently endorsed by Tenants PAC, Make the Road New York Action, and New York Communities for Change. If she wins, Medina would give tenants an unrelenting and passionate advocate inside the private meetings of the Democratic Senate Conference.
NW BRONX 33rd District: Pro-tenant Gustavo Rivera, who defeated the corrupt Pedro Espada in 2010, is once again facing a challenge from Councilmember Fernando Cabrera for this northwest Bronx seat. Cabrera’s 2014 campaign, which relied on a great deal of landlord money, was marked by campaign-finance violations.
What about the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) ?
Even if the Democrats win a numerical majority on November 8, the five turncoat Democrats in the so-called Independent Democratic Conference could keep the Republicans in charge, as they did when Democrats won a 33-30 majority in 2012. The IDC was formed by Jeffrey Klein (Bronx/Westchester) after the 2010 election, because he was angry that his fellow Democrats would not make him their leader.
Klein, whose district includes a large number of tenants, raises gigantic amounts of money from the real-estate lobby. During the two years he was co-leader with Republican Dean Skelos, the Senate did not pass a single pro-tenant bill.
If the Democrats win a narrow majority, there is a danger that Klein and his fellow turncoats—Diane Savino (Staten Island/Brooklyn), Tony Avella (Queens), David Carlucci (Rockland County), and David Valesky (Syracuse)—could cut a similar deal with GOP leader John Flanagan. However, if the Democrats pick up enough seats, they will be under a lot of pressure to return to the mainstream conference.
The math works out as follows: The Democrats need to hold the Kaminsky, Latimer, and Panepinto seats, and pick up another four or five seats on Long Island and upstate. This is a tall order, even in a presidential year. Tenants need to work hard to help the Democrats. Otherwise, rent regulation will soon be a thing of the past.
We cannot count on any significant help from Governor Andrew Cuomo. The titular head of the state Democratic Party clearly does not want a Democratic state Senate. In 2012, he abandoned promises to ensure nonpartisan redistricting and let the Republicans gerrymander the Senate. In 2013, he helped engineer the GOP-IDC alliance. In 2014, he made only a token effort to act on his promise to help win a Democratic majority. Cuomo will probably endorse one or two Democratic Senate candidates, then sit on his hands.
Despite his attempts to position himself as a defender of tenants, the governor has refused to advocate the repeal of vacancy deregulation and has utterly failed to close other loopholes in the rent laws. In his State of the State speech in January 2015, five months before the deadline to renew the rent laws, he did not even mention them.
Michael McKee is treasurer of Tenants Political Action Committee and a board member of Met Council, Inc