The State Senate map of upstate New York is a swath of red, with three blue dots representing Senator Neil Breslin of Albany, Senator Rachael May of Syracuse, and Senator Tim Kennedy of Buffalo. 

What You Need To Know

  • This is an open seat vacated by Congressman Chris Jacobs, who won a special election in June  

  • Sean Ryan, a Democratic Assemblyman, has an enormous cash advantage over Republican Joshua Mertzlufft

  • Mertzlufft is running as an outsider

  • Senate Democrats are hoping to see an influx of freshmen from Western New York

But Democrats are hoping that November ushers in a wave of blue from the west, starting with the election of Assemblyman Sean Ryan to the 60th District Senate seat vacated by now Congressman Chris Jacobs, who won a special election in June to fill the congressional seat once held by Chris Collins.

Collins is scheduled to report to federal prison in Pensacola, Fla., by October 13 to serve a 26-month sentence for insider trading.

In July, Assemblyman Ryan’s campaign filing showed he had about $400,000 cash on hand. Granted, a lot of that was from his Assembly campaign, but that number has only grown in the last month. One high ranking Ryan campaign official puts Ryan’s current war chest at around $500,000.

“He’s a rock star,” said the official. “We’re on the cusp of having a large, large freshman class for upstate like we did with the island [in 2018]. Sean is in this unique position where he’s going to have quite a bit of Albany experience, even as a freshman senator. He’ll be a very influential freshman senator for this region.”

Democrats are hoping they see from Western New York what they saw from downstate in the last election cycle.

According to the official, “This past cycle, we saw the election of the anti-IDC (Independent Democratic Conference) team from New York City, a big group of freshmen from the city and a big group of freshmen from the island, the Long Island 6, four of whom were freshmen.”

Democrats believe that upstate is ripe for a similar sweep in 2020.  

“We are on the cusp of having that number, not necessarily triple, but more than double in terms of just upstate representatives,” the campaign office told Spectrum News. “Having such a large group of freshman come in puts Sean in a position where he helps the other freshman out, and also explains a little bit about Albany to the Samras, the Cooneys and the Mannions, and the Hincheys, who are, hopefully, going to be teaming up with him.”

That’s a reference to Samra Brouk, who is running for the 55th district State Senate seat against Republican Christopher Missick, Jeremy Cooney, who is running for the 56th State Senate seat against Michael Barry, John Mannion, who is running in the 50th against Angi Renna, and Michelle Hinchey, who is running for the 46th District seat against three opponents: Richard Amedure (R); Robert Alft (G); and Gary Greenberg (write-in).

All of these seats are currently held by Republicans who have opted not to run again. But before any of these candidates can claim victory, they need to win in November. 

For Sean Ryan, that means defeating Republican nominee Joshua Mertzlufft. 

“Josh is an Albany outsider. He’s a fresh voice,” according to his campaign manager Dave Bruno.

Like Ryan, Mertzlufft is an attorney. But before going to law school, he worked as a mechanical engineer at a local manufacturing firm.

“That combination, engineering and the practical ramifications of that, mixed with his legal background, gives him a really unique way of viewing small businesses in our community. It enables him to see both the hands-on aspects from his engineering background, as well as some of the big picture pieces,” Bruno told Spectrum News.

Republicans are hoping that Mertzlufft’s outsider status will be an asset to the campaign. 

“What we are seeing, and we are talking to lots of folks on the ground, is that people are fed up with one-party rule in New York State,” Bruno said. “They are fed up with a complete lack of checks and balances on the governor. We really believe we’re going to see a reaction to that this fall.”

Bruno expects other senate races in Western New York will also prove his point, that the public is tired of one-party rule.

“People are going to show that they want the Republicans to take back the state senate,” he said, "to restore those checks and balances.”

While that remains to be seen, Ryan’s vast financial resources compared to Mertzlufft are not at issue.

In June, when City and State took a look at this race, Mertzlufft’s campaign had raised less than $20,000.

When Spectrum News asked Bruno about Mertzlufft’s current financial war chest, he said, “I don’t have those numbers directly in front of me here, but I do know that we have what we feel is plenty of resources to run the race that we need to.”

Bruno acknowledged Ryan’s superior financial situation. 

“We’re aware of that," Bruno said. "But what we see time and time again is that races are not just decided on money. They are decided by the people who live in the district, and the support that they rally around the candidate.”

According to Bruno, Ryan’s status as a veteran assemblyman works against him and for Mertzlufft.

“We are seeing strong support for Josh, for his message. And that’s something that outside interest groups, outside money, coming from places outside the district, and special interest groups can’t buy," Bruno said. “He’s not a career politician. He someone who’s doing this because he wants to see New York become a better place for his family and his community.”