Primary also features special elections for seats of convicted legislative leaders

Apr 19, 2016

Tuesday is not only New York’s presidential primary, it also the day for two special elections to replace the disgraced former leaders of the legislature who lost their seats after being convicted on multiple felony corruption charges.

One of the races is to replace former Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican who is now facing a lengthy prison term on corruption convictions.  

The Democrats have put up Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a former prosecutor who worked on the corruption case against former Senate Leader Pedro Espada, who is now in jail. Kaminsky, who represents Long Beach on Long Island’s south shore was a guest  on WNYC’s "The Brian Lehrer Show" where he said the fall out from corruption at the state Capitol is an issue.

“People are fed up,” Kaminski told Lehrer. “They know something stinks, and so I have been addressing it head on.”

Chris McGrath, the Republican candidate, is a local personal injury attorney with ties to GOP, who has never before run for office. McGrath has not mentioned Skelos and has done few interviews, preferring instead to communicate in ads that portray him as committed to his community, pointing out his paper route and where he played basketball and went to church.

McGrath, in produced ads, argues that electing the Democrat would mean New York City’s agenda would take precedence over Long Island’s, something Kaminsky denies.

“If I lose this race then Bill de Blasio will be picking the pockets of each and every family in this district," McGrath said in the ad.

Kaminsky has relied on his family for some help including his  famous great uncle, comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks, who’s doing robo calls.

“Yes it really is Mel Brooks,” Brooks said in the recorded message

Brooks urges voters to get out to the ballot on April 19.

“Write that down!” Mel urges recipients. “April 19th is a special election. You’re liable to forget.”

Both candidates may have trouble getting independent voters to remember that they can vote in the Senate race, even if they are not allowed to cast a ballot in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. Turnout is likely to be high in the hotly contested Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. While Donald Trump is ahead in the Republican presidential primary, his supporters have shown they are highly motivated to vote.

The Senate race is also important because if Kaminsky wins, then the Democrats would numerically have the majority in that chamber. But one Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, caucuses with the GOP, and is not expected to switch. There are also five members of the Independent Democratic Conference who have in the past formed a majority ruling coalition with the Republicans.

A Siena College poll released over the weekend shows McGrath 8 points ahead. Democrats counter that their internal polls show Kaminsky up by 3 points.

There’s also an election in lower Manhattan to replace former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is scheduled to be sentenced on corruption convictions in a few weeks. Silver ally and Democrat Alice Cancel faces Working Families Party candidate, Yuh-Line Niou, who is chief of staff to Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim. The district is heavily democratic. The Republican candidate is businessman Lester Chang.

In court documents unsealed Friday the U.S. attorney accused the former speaker of having two affairs, one with former communications director who ran one of Albany’s highest earning lobbying firms, another with a former assemblywoman who received state jobs in agencies controlled by Silver and Assembly Democrats. It’s not known if that news will have any effect on the race.