For most of the 10 years since 2010, the state Senate’s Western New York delegation has been a sea of red with a single tiny blue dot representing state Senator Tim Kennedy, D – Buffalo, SD-63. The only exceptions to this rule of red were the elections of Marc Panepinto and Ted O’Brien, both of whom held their seats for a single term.

Democrats are hoping that changes after November.

What You Need To Know

  • Both the AFL-CIO & CSEA have endorsed Democrats in SD 55; SD 56; SD 60 and SD 61
  • All the seats are open after a spate of Republican retirements
  • If 2 out of the 4 seats are won by Democrats, and the Democrats retain all of their seats in 2020, the Senate will have a veto-proof super majority in that house
  • Republican Senator Pam Helming, the chair of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, told Spectrum News that Republican candidates will have strong support from police and fire unions

Last week, two large unions, the AFL-CIO and CSEA, endorsed Democrats in the four open seats in the western-most part of the state.

The two unions are both backing Samra Brouk over Christopher Missick in SD 55, the seat currently held by out-going Senator Richard Funke; Jeremy Cooney over Michael Barry, Jr. in SD 56, the seat currently held by Senator Joe Robach who is leaving the Senate; Sean Ryan over Joshua Mertzlufft in SD 60, a vacant seat that had been held by Chris Jacobs; and Jacqualine Berger over Edward Rath III in SD 61, the seat held by Senator Ranzenhofer, who is not running for re-election. 

This isn’t to say that upstate Republicans have been left out in the cold. Far from it. 

The AFL-CIO has also endorsed incumbents Joe Griffo, SD-47; Patty Ritchie, SD 48; Jim Tedisco, SD 49; Pam Helming, SD 54; Pat Gallivan, SD 59 and Robert Ortt, SD 62.

According to Jennifer Tuttle, a political analyst from Western New York and former labor activist, “what’s really critical about these endorsements is that organized labor likes to endorse winners because they need to deliver for their members.”

It’s not about party affiliation, Tuttle says.  

“Particularly for an organization that has supported Republican senators in the past, it’s significant that they are endorsing Democrats for open seats because they see the writing on the wall,” she said. “The Senate is going to stay with the Democrats, and (Labor feels) Democrats will be the best people to deliver for their constituents.”

Tuttle says that it helps that Senator Tim Kennedy, who, for a long time was the only Democratic senator from Western New York, has made good on a lot of promises to his constituents.

“Tim Kennedy has shown what the Democratic majority can do for Western New York. In his first year in the majority as Transportation Chair, he delivered $100 million for NFTA (Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority) which is the first major investment in 36 years. He also delivered $35 million for Cheektowaga for sewer issues,” Tuttle said.

“I couldn’t feel more proud,” candidate Jeremy Cooney told Spectrum News.  

Cooney is running for the seat that Senator Joseph Robach is vacating. Robach had been previously endorsed by both CSEA and AFL-CIO.

Cooney, who is a former staffer for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, thinks Western New York is seeing a “seismic shift.”

“(We are) seeing unions that have traditionally supported the Republican Party and Republican members of the state Senate who are now looking to a new upstate New York,” Cooney said.  

“A new Democratic majority, perhaps super majority. We’re hopeful.”

The Senate Democrats currently have a 40-seat majority; they need to win two more seats to have a super majority, which is veto proof.

But Senator Pam Helming, chair of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee thinks the Democrats are overly optimistic.

“That’s not representative of what we’re seeing on the ground, or what we’re hearing in our neighborhoods or around our communities,” Helming told Spectrum News.

“Voters are frustrated with the state Senate Democrats especially on bail reform and their handling of the nursing home crisis. Right now, they are refusing to subpoena (DOH Commissioner) Howard Zucker to testify,” she said, referencing the nursing home hearings. 

Helming also believes that Democrats have left behind Western New Yorkers who strongly believe in law and order.