A few years ago, Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate were eyeing other jobs.
Eric Adams ran for Brooklyn borough president. Daniel Squadron sought the public advocate’s office.
At the time, Republicans saw this as evidence of Democrats languishing in the minority — not a fun place to be in Albany — with little hope of regaining power in the chamber in the near future.
Things have changed.
Republicans after falling into the minority in the state Senate over the last year are indicating they are looking for the exits: Sen. Chris Jacobs and Robert Ortt are both vying for the GOP nomination in western New York’s 27th Congressional District. Sen. Bob Antonacci, a Republican elected only a year ago to a Syracuse-area seat, has filed to run for a local judgeship.
There could be even more departures if a cap on outside income for state lawmakers, now under a court challenge, were to take effect.
And Democrats, naturally, see an opportunity to expand.
“The Senate Republicans are speaking loud and clear with their feet and one by one, they are evacuating the Senate,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris, the Queens Democrat who leads the conference’s fundraising committee and is the deputy majority leader. “It’s hard to blame them.”
Gianaris in an interview said there are pickup chances for Democrats next year, especially if seats are open: Democrats believe they can run competitive races for the Jacobs district in western New York, where Assemblyman Sean Ryan has filed to run. Antonacci’s district in central New York is also an attractive one for Democrats after he narrowly won last year to replace retiring Sen. John DeFrancisco.
Gianaris also expects the Democratic presidential nominee to have stronger coattails — or at least President Donald Trump to be a drag on Republicans running down ballot.
“Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, the Hudson Valley, these are all areas the Democratic presidential nominee is going to do very well,” he said. “They (Senate Republicans) are looking for greener pastures. They know that not only do we have the largest Dem majority in a century, but we’re in a position to grow it.”
Democrats also have the trappings of the majority this year, which includes an advantage in fundraising, where magnetized dollars often redirect to those in power.
But there are pitfalls. The base of the Democratic Party is restive and eager to challenge incumbents or those deemed to be too close to the establishment.
For now, primaries appear to be the bigger threat for Democrats in the state Assembly after insurgent candidates last year toppled incumbents in the state Senate, including members of the now defunct Independent Democratic Conference.
Still, the politics of this era have shifted, making predictions of what could happen a fool’s errand. The primary loss of Rep. Joe Crowley to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last June scrambled the calculus for elected officials up and down the ballot.
“If I were Senator Gianaris, I’d stop obsessing about the Senate Republicans and start worrying about whether or not he’s going to get primaried right out of the Senate next year,” said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif. “That’s a very real possibility because no one on the left is is buying his newly discovered progressivism, which quite frankly was borne solely out of the fear that he’d go the way of his friend, ally and political mentor Joe Crowley.”
Republicans expect voters to cast aside one-party rule in state government amid a flurry of long-sought progressive legislation approved this year, much of which they say is out of step with most New Yorkers.
“We’re going to field a very strong slate of candidates next year who, like many New Yorkers, believe that one-party, Democrat rule has been an unmitigated disaster,” Reif said. “What has this new Senate majority actually accomplished anyway? Billions in new taxes, a Criminal Bill of Rights and free college tuition and new driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. And absolutely nothing for hardworking, middle class taxpayers and their families.”
As for primaries, Gianaris was relatively sanguine.
“We never know until we get into it,” he said. “Everyone seems to understand the need to work together to avoid cutting each other off at the knees.”
It’s a preview of what’s to come next year for the state Senate, a sign that even with a large majority Republicans don’t see what had been their final perch of power in New York statewide as a lost cause just yet.