Just as late tallies of mail ballots in several battleground states wiped out President Trump's leads and wound up electing Joe Biden to succeed him, the counting of absentee ballots in New York has snatched victory from at least four Republican candidates for State Senate, three of them backed by a Police Benevolent Association-led coalition of law-enforcement unions.
Those reversals of Election Night results have turned what loomed as a major disappointment for Senate Democrats into a scenario in which they are certain to preserve 40 seats in the 63-member body and may pick up two more that would give them a veto-proof majority.
A Feud Grows in Queens
The resurgence by Democrats, who in some cases overcame deficits of 6,000 or more votes with the tally over the past week or so of ballots cast by mail, produced some of the same chest-thumping by Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris beginning Nov. 17 that PBA President Patrick J. Lynch had engaged in two weeks earlier. That triggered a heated back-and-forth between the two Queens natives that had Mr. Gianaris questioning whether a union tweet was a physical threat against him and then claiming the PBA had devolved from a union into "an armed political organization."
Mr. Lynch responded in a statement that the Queens Senator had willfully misinterpreted one sentence in the union's tweet to take the heat off Senate Democrats for their "anti-cop, pro-criminal agenda."
A big part of the law-enforcement coalition's push focused on Long Island, where Democrats two years ago captured five Senate seats that had been Republican strongholds in the past, and they appeared to have helped the GOP win back three of those seats when ballots were counted Nov. 3.
Senator Gianaris, who in the wake of the killing of George Floyd six months ago by a Minneapolis cop now facing murder charges announced that he would no longer accept contributions from police unions, touched off the tweeting match Nov. 17 after one Long Island Democrat who trailed on Election Night, freshman Senator Kevin Thomas, rebounded from a six-percentage-point deficit in the preliminary count.
A Boundary Challenge
After the mail-ballot tally showed Mr. Thomas had defeated GOP challenger Dennis Dunne by more than 1,400 votes, Mr. Gianaris used Twitter to question why the union was getting involved in races outside New York City and wrote, "You should really do a better job minding your members' money."
The PBA responded with a tweet that began, "Keep looking over your shoulder, Mike. You had to bring in your billionaire buddies and your Pres/VP candidates to barely squeak by. How much did you spend per vote? And how much will you have to spend after voters suffer through 2 more years in #NoBailNY?"
Mr. Gianaris brushed past that last reference to his playing a key role in the bail-reform law that has been under fire by law-enforcement groups including the PBA even before it took effect at the start of the year, instead focusing on the tweet's opening line.
More-neutral observers viewed the advice to "keep looking over your shoulder, Mike" as a reference to the law-enforcement coalition's determination to swing the State Senate back to the Republicans, who prior to the 2018 election maintained or shared control of the upper house of the Legislature for 54 of the previous 56 years.
But when pressed by NY1's Errol Louis on "Inside City Hall" that night as to whether he considered those words a physical threat, Senator Gianaris replied, "It's menacing...It's certainly not something that a group that represents over 30,000 people who are armed and have license to shoot their firearms throughout the city should be making."
'Gone Off the Rails'
He then upped the rhetorical ante by saying, "I think the union has really lost its bearings. It's gone off the rails and it's become more of an armed political organization. They're out there endorsing Donald Trump, investing their members' money in State Senate races in areas of the state they don't even represent."
He continued, "They wanted to send a message to the State Senate by going after Kevin Thomas. Well, Kevin Thomas has won, and so if they wanted to send a message, a message was sent. It was just the opposite one that they thought they were sending, and in the meantime, they've wasted a million dollars of union dues that I'm sure their members would like to have back."
What Mr. Gianaris was willfully overlooking was that the PBA got involved in races outside the city—although often in areas where many of its members live—expecting that even if the coalition's candidates lost, they would do well enough to worry Democratic Senators about a future defeat if they continued to act against the interests of law-enforcement employees and their unions.
Mr. Lynch had made that point when the preliminary results showed 12 of the 21 candidates endorsed by the coalition having won their Senate races, and he reiterated it even after four of those wins were undone—among them another Long Island contest in which incumbent Democrat James Gaughran was propelled past challenger Edmund Smyth Nov. 18 by the absentee-ballot tally.
'They Got Our Message'
In a statement issued that afternoon, the PBA leader said, "Our goal was to send a message to Senate Democrats that their anti-police, anti-public-safety votes hurt their communities and hurt them politically. They can't pretend they didn't get the message, because they and their big-money allies had to spend millions trying to silence us. They burned their bridges when they sided with the radicals and against their own constituents. They burned their bridges when they told police officers 'we support you' and then voted the opposite. Whether they attempt to rebuild those bridges is up to them."
State Sen. Diane Savino, one of the Democrats who was not targeted by the coalition (a distinction shared by Andrew Gounardes, who that same day overcame an eight-point lead held by GOP challenger Vito Bruno to narrowly gain a second term in a district that includes the Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn) said that the belated victories by her party's incumbents took some of the luster off the law-enforcement effort against them.
That would be particularly true if another first-term Senator from Long Island, Monica Martinez, also rallied to gain a second term, she said. A former vice president of District Council 37's social-services local who is one of the leading supporters of uniformed unions in the Legislature, Ms. Savino said, "This is gonna be a problem if all the law-enforcement unions don't realize that their fate lies with state legislators. They can't burn every bridge. They can't personalize things."
That is especially true, said the Senator who represents Staten Island and a slice of Brooklyn, because some of her colleagues would welcome the chance to marginalize the law-enforcement unions through bills that would affect them. "When you know that there are people who want to drum you out of your existence," Ms. Savino said, "don't give them a weapon to beat you over the head with."
Cites Cuomo's Craftiness
That would be a fact of political life, she said, even if Senate Democrats did not gain the two-thirds majority that would potentially give them the votes to override any vetoes by Governor Cuomo. That would matter more on symbolism than substance, she contended, since while Senate and Assembly Democrats lean further to the left than he does, "The Legislature can't compel the Governor to spend money he doesn't want to. [A two-thirds majority] doesn't mean that we're in charge; just that we've got better bargaining leverage. But the Governor sometimes uses the carrot to get what he wants, and sometimes the stick. He still has a bigger stick."
As to the Twitter war between Senator Gianaris and Mr. Lynch, she said, "I think it was idiotic on all parts. If Donald Trump hasn't taught us that Twitter isn't the place for grown-ups to spend their days, I don't know who will."
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