A Democratic assemblyman is exploring a run for the New York state Senate seat that has been occupied by the same Republican since 1991. Assemblyman James Skoufis believes now is the time for change and new ideas in the 39th district, where Bill Larkin serves as senator. Skoufis has set up an exploratory committee enabling him to raise funds for a potential run.
“This is something that I’m speaking with many people about — voters, community leaders, elected officials — certainly to make sure the resources are there should I decide to run,” Skoufis says. “There’s a lot that goes into making this decision. I want to make sure I have all my ducks in a row, but certainly I took a big step in that direction just recently this week by opening up a Senate campaign committee.”
A spokesman for Larkin says the senator has every intention of running for re-election. He declined to comment on Skoufis’ potential run. Larkin, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is serving his 36th year in the state legislature, including six terms in the Assembly from 1979-1990. His district includes portions of Orange County and two towns each in Rockland and Ulster Counties. Skoufis says in addition to his assembly accomplishments he thinks he would have an edge for the following reason.
“A big chunk of the Senate district includes the Assembly district that I currently represent,” says Skoufis. “The senate district is actually a Democratic Senate district, I think around 10,000 more Democrats than Republicans.”
In 2012, a presidential election year, Larkin defeated Democratic Orange County Legislator Christopher Eachus by more than 5,000 votes, about five percentage points. In 2014, Larkin sailed to re-election over Newburgh City Councilwoman Gay Lee. More widely known that Eachus, Skoufis believes he can garner more institutional support. Jessica Proud is spokeswoman for the state Republican Party. She says Larkin is popular among his voters and has a long record of service and delivering results.
“We fully expect that he will be re-elected. He will have the full force of the party behind him,” Proud says. “This is obviously going to be a very big year with the presidential races and, frankly, the policies of the senate Democrats have really been controlled going far left, to the policies of Bill de Blasio and that’s not the kind of agenda that people of Hudson Valley want.”
Tying Senate Democratic candidates to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, came into play during the 2014 elections, when Republican Sue Serino defeated Democrat Terry Gipson in the 41st Senate District, which covers portions of Dutchess and Putnam Counties. Gipson says he will try and regain his seat in November. Another 2014 Republican winner in the Hudson Valley was Terrence Murphy, who defeated Democrat Justin Wagner for the Senate seat previously held by Republican Greg Ball.
Skoufis, whose 99th District includes portions of Orange County and a piece of Rockland, was first elected to public office in 2009 as a councilman in Woodbury, at age 21, the town’s youngest in history. He became the youngest sitting assemblymember during his first term in 2012. Larkin, who is assistant majority leader for house operations, is 88. The GOP’s Proud says if age becomes a target, it won’t work.
“Senator Larkin is extremely active and he delivers results,” says Proud. “And I think it shouldn’t be, the voters are, I think, thinking less about a number and thinking more about what you’re able to accomplish in Albany and he’s been very effective.”
“Senator Larkin has been there for nearly 40 years in Albany in the Senate and the Assembly and, like I said, I respect his service during that time and previous to that time, but voters are craving a change,” Skoufis says. “They see Albany, they see the broken status quo, and it’s time for fresh new ideas.”
With larger voter turnout in a presidential election year, each party hopes to increase numbers in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority over mainstream Democrats and the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference.