A Winning Formula for LI Democrats

Published by Newsday. Written by Lisa Tyson.
November 23, 2015

It’s going to take a lot more than a stitch in time to save the “Long Island Nine” in the 2016 elections. If the Democratic challengers to these nine Republican state senators who represent the Island follow these three rules, they’ll have a real shot at winning seats and taking back the State Senate majority from Republicans.

First, Democrats need to make Republican corruption central to their campaign themes and commit to fixing the state’s electoral system by promising to support publicly funded elections. This month’s elections for Nassau County district attorney and Oyster Bay supervisor proved voters will stand up against a system that’s based on elected officials being impacted by campaign contributors.

Democrat Madeline Singas’ victory over well-known Republican Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray for Nassau district attorney, and the very slim victory, despite recent scandals in his administration, of Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto over Democrat John Mangelli are textbook examples of how to run against a corrupt political system and beat the odds.

Next year, Venditto’s son, state Sen. Michael Venditto, is up for re-election with a last name that’s linked to scandal. Will the younger Venditto stand up for real reform, including publicly funded elections, that will stop Albany’s culture of corruption? He hasn’t yet.

Second, challengers need to stand up for the issues that can truly improve voters’ lives, like increasing the minimum wage and making college tuition affordable. After all, it’s the big money interests who fight these policies by heavily contributing to lawmakers.

When it comes to having elected officials who are responsive to the needs of most New Yorkers, state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) embodies all that’s wrong with Albany. What’s worse than his alleged crimes to enrich himself and his son is the legal bribery that happens every day at the Capitol. When Skelos was head of the Senate Republicans, he set the agenda — an agenda that put corporate profits before the needs of ordinary New Yorkers. His pro-fracking, anti-living wage, and even pro-gun positions trace to corporate interests.

Third, candidates need to make sure voters look down the ballot by connecting the major presidential campaign issues like income inequality to state issues like raising the minimum wage. In 2012, President Barack Obama won seven of nine State Senate districts on Long Island. Democrats also have an enrollment advantage in seven of the nine Long Island districts.

In the last presidential election, Obama won the 7th District with 54 percent of the vote. That same year, incumbent Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) won only 52 percent. Democrats will turn out next year because their voting numbers rise in presidential elections. Democratic candidates for State Senate need to get those votes by having meaningful conversations with voters.

The Democratic enrollment advantage on Long Island and across New York gets stronger every year. So far, Senate Republicans have been able to cling to power by scaring voters — saying votes for Democrats will give control of the state to New York City; taking campaign money from big real estate moguls and hedge fund managers; and buying off a few Democrats by giving power to a small group that caucuses with the Republicans.

Next year can be one of change. It can be a historic moment when Democrats vote against corruption — legal and illegal — by demanding their issues come first and that their elected officials are accountable to them.

Lisa Tyson is director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition.