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NYS Special Elections: Eyes Are On A Senate Race In Westchester

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Voters head to the polls today to elect nine New York state Assemblymembers and two state Senators. The special election in the 37th Senate District in Westchester County could tip the balance in the chamber. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has more on the contentious race.

Democrat George Latimer vacated his seat after being elected Westchester County Executive. Since then, money came pouring in on both sides in the race between Democratic Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer and Republican Julie Killian. Dr. Christopher Mann is assistant professor of political science at Skidmore College. He says given the recent merging of Senate Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference, either candidate would give the Senate a razor-thin majority for her party.

“It’s a really finely balanced thing but it does decide who gets to make decisions about what comes to the floor and set priorities, and it really can shape the agenda of what the legislature does,” Mann says. “It’s still hard to round up votes to get anything passed, but it could really change the direction and the priorities that we see out of Albany.”

Here’s Mayer.

“My election is very, very important in moving along that path to a Democratic majority, with Senator Stewart-Cousins as a leader,” Mayer says. “So I think it can’t be overstated how important this is to win.”

Killian, a former Rye councilwoman, ran for the Senate seat in 2016, against Latimer.

“Obviously, an open seat is always an easier or better election than running against an incumbent,” says Killian. “And I just feel so strongly that New York is going in the wrong direction and that I can make an impact up there and get us on the right track.”

In 2017, incumbent Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino lost to Latimer, and party strategists on both sides attributed the outcome to a referendum on President Trump. The question is whether the blue wave will continue to roll into the voting booths today. Killian points to what she calls an interesting piece of data.

“In this district, George Latimer only beat Rob Astorino by four points,” Killian says. “And George beat him by a lot across the county but, in this district, it was only by four points.”

Meantime, Mayer equates Killian’s campaign with Trump-like tactics.

“And it’s really just the Trump way carried into a local race,” Mayer says. “And it’s pretty shameful.”

Julie Killian:

“And my opponents’ tried to tie me to Trump. I’ve never met Trump. And, to me, if they want to make this race about Trump, have at it, but that shows me that they don’t have any solutions to what’s going on in our community because we have issues going on down here. That’s what I’m totally focused on,” says Killian. “And, they’re all worked up about, Shelley’s so worked up about what’s going on on a federal level, I mean, I think she probably should be running for Congress.”

Mayer describes the voting tendency of the 37th Senate District.

“Well, the registration edge is Democratic but there are, there’s a very significant number of people with no party affiliation and many of the Democrats in some of the communities are conservative leaning and tend to vote Republican notwithstanding their party affiliation. I mean, I represent East Yonkers, where that’s been a historical tendency. George won anyway, and I believe I will win anyway by being a person who relates to and respects those that disagree, who have more conservative views than I have. That’s fine. I get along very well in my district now having that be part of it. I believe… that’s one part,” says Mayer. “The second thing is I just wouldn’t miss that the activism of the anti-Trump community, the resistance community is very strong here in Westchester.”

Mann speaks to whether the outcome of the Killian-Mayer race would be a referendum on anything.

“I think it’ll be interesting to see which way it goes and what the margin is in the direction that it goes because it could be a sign of just exactly where things stand right now, not necessarily in November, but right now in terms of Democratic enthusiasm, Republican enthusiasm for turning out,” says Mann. “We’ve seen a lot of these special elections at different levels around the country indicate that there’s a lot more energy on the Democratic side at the moment. So it’ll be interesting to see if that’s true here in the Hudson Valley.”

Contentiousness escalated in recent weeks. Allegations emerged that Mayer mishandled sexual harassment claims while she served as counsel to the Senate Democrats. Republicans, including Killian, condemned Mayer, alleging she ignored women’s complaints. Mayer’s campaign spokesperson said, in part, “As much as Shelley advocated for these victims, the authority to discipline staff who were not part of the Counsel’s office rested with the Secretary of the Senate." Then, a woman who hosted a campaign fundraiser event for Killian tweeted criticism of two students who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, students who are now gun safety activists. Democrats assailed Killian. Killian later tweeted: “Let me be clear: I am vehemently opposed to the notions tweeted about by Denise Ward. The campaign is returning the $ raised.”

Polls close at 9 p.m.

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