Republican State Senate candidates backed by a coalition of police unions appeared to have regained a number of seats the party lost two years ago, raising the likelihood that at least some of the police- and justice-reform legislation enacted since then will be revisited.
As of Nov. 6, with absentee ballots still to be counted, Republicans looked poised to have gained at least six seats in the upper house, which would bring their total to 27. Should that number hold, Democrats will instead have to operate with a simple majority of 36, far from the veto-proof super-majority of 42 they had hoped for.
Time to Reconsider?
Last term, Democrats’ solid advantage in the Senate—for a time they held a nearly two-to-one majority in the 63-seat chamber—allowed the caucus to pass thorough bail and discovery reforms, changes that law-enforcement officers and their unions blamed for a rise in crime, including, in New York City, spikes in shootings and killings. Although even police data is at best inconclusive that those changes led to the increases, the Republican gains could lead to a reconsideration of those pieces of legislation.
But perhaps the weightiest topic the unions would like to re-address is the June repeal of the State Civil Rights Law known as 50-a, which, nominally at least, allowed public access to officers’ disciplinary records, including those reflecting matters that were never proven. Although the extent to which the personnel records will be available has not yet been fully decided by the courts, the unions might sense that legislators would be willing to curtail some access to the records.
“There’s still the opportunity to fix 50-a by removing unsubstantiated allegations,” State Senator Diane Savino said. She added that any modifications to that end should apply for all public employees, not just for uniformed personnel.
But a spokesman for the Police Benevolent Association, John Nuthall, suggested that the PBA would be speaking with legislators first and foremost about bread-and-butter issues, specifically to press for equitable pension benefits for Tier 3 members, which includes all officers hired after 2009.
Calling Out 'Party of Labor'
“The ‘party of labor’ has been in power for two years and we have not gotten any traction on it,” he said, referring to Democrats. “Regardless of the outcome in these races, they will remain and we intend to continue pressing.”
The extent to which law-enforcement matters, such as bail laws and 50-a, take priority will depend on the makeup of the Legislature, Mr. Nuthall said. “We’ll be assessing what the landscape looks like once we hear the priority of the majorities in Albany,” he said.
But, he added, Republican gains in the State Senate reflected “a clear message” that voters had recognized that the criminal-justice reforms passed by legislators “have had a negative impact on their quality of life.”
“Everyone in Albany has a new understanding of where New Yorkers are on these issues,” he said.
The PBA’s president, Patrick J. Lynch, doubled down on that sentiment.
'Rejected Anti-Cop Extremism'
“While we wait for every valid ballot to be counted, it is already clear that New Yorkers have rejected the anti-police, anti-public-safety extremism of the Democratic Party’s radical wing,” he said in a statement the morning after Election Day. “Any Democrat who is disappointed in these results needs to face a hard truth: they won’t win back regular New Yorkers until they kick out the cop-haters and anarchists who have hijacked the party.”
But James Coleman Battista, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Buffalo, cautioned against reading too much into the unions' influence on results that he noted might change once the unusually high number of absentee ballots began being tallied Nov. 9.
“The thing to remember in an election is, ain’t nobody showing up at the polls with State Senate on their mind,” he said, particularly at the tail end of an inordinately contentious Presidential campaign. “Any effects that the unions are going to have are at the margins.”
Professor Battista, whose research expertise is in state politics, said any future legislative successes achieved by law-enforcement unions will likely be temporary, given that Democrats will be redrawing legislative districts following results of the Census, with the likely outcome an even tighter stranglehold on the Legislature by the party.
By 2023, “you’re going to see a State Senate that looks similar along partisan lines to the Assembly,” he said.
“If you’re in a law-enforcement union, any gain you make now is going to be short-lived,” Mr. Battista said. “Push for what you can now.”
GOP Retakes Some of L.I.
Still, the coalition of 23 statewide unions that endorsed the Republican candidates, including all five unions representing NYPD officers, and Republicans were buoyed by their gains at a time when Democrats had needed to flip just two GOP seats to secure a veto-proof majority of 42 members.
Significantly, Republicans appear to have reversed setbacks two years ago on Long Island, until then a resolutely Republican bastion, by taking back at least three seats. All will be occupied by candidates backed by the unions should current tallies hold following the counting of absentee ballots.
Among those will be Alexis Weik, the Islip town receiver of taxes, who beat Democratic incumbent Monica Martinez in District 3 in Suffolk County. Sen. Martinez two years ago flipped what had long been a Republican seat—as did five other Democrats in a total of nine races on Long Island, results that help the party regain its Senate majority for just the second time in a half-century, prefacing passage of the policing reforms denounced by the unions.
In District 5 on the North Shore, Edmund Smyth looks to have ousted Democratic incumbent James Gaughran, another first-termer.
And in District 6 in Nassau County, Dennis Dunne Sr., a Hempstead Town Councilman, held a 6-point lead over Democratic incumbent Kevin Thomas, who narrowly won his seat in 2018 by ousting longtime conservative Republican Kemp Hannon.
This Bruno's From Brooklyn
But a prized and perhaps-unexpected catch for the GOP could be the District 22 seat representing predominantly Democratic portions of Brooklyn. There, the former nightclub owner Vito Bruno, who did not receive the unions’ endorsement, could be on the verge of ousting incumbent Andrew Gounardes, who trails by about 6,000 votes, albeit with nearly 40,000 absentee ballots outstanding. Among Mr. Bruno’s campaign cornerstones was the bail law, which he characterized as “reckless” legislation pushed and passed by “special-interest groups.”
But it was the contest waged mostly across the Narrows from Kings County that garnered the boldest headlines. There, a bitterly contested tangle to represent Staten Island and portions of Brooklyn in the U.S. House of Representatives looks to have become a surprisingly easy win for Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis over incumbent Max Rose.
Ms. Malliotakis, who campaigned on a pro-law-enforcement platform and was endorsed by President Trump as well as several law-enforcement unions, including all five representing city police and the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, was just one of eight Republicans to flip a House seat as of Nov. 5.
In the lead-up to the election, police-union leaders made several joint appearances with the former mayoral candidate, during which she espoused support for repealing portions of the state’s new bail laws and opposition to the shuttering of Rikers Island.
Late on Election Night, the Sergeants Benevolent Association captured the full flavor of this election season, tweeting, “Nicole defeats cop hater Max Rose congratulations Nicole.”