BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Tomorrow, voters will cast their ballots in what might prove to be a watershed year for New York Republicans. Not only is a Democratic governor with highly controversial policies up for re-election, but Republicans at both the state and federal levels are attempting to seize on a dip in Democratic popularity to land wins in major swing districts, including ones within the Hudson Valley.
In arguably the biggest race, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will square off against Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. Astorino, who is running alongside Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss as his Lieutenant Governor, has capitalized on alleged corruption and favoritism on Cuomo’s Moreland Commission and the broad unpopularity of the NY SAFE Act in upstate regions to portray the incumbent as a highly partisan, “business as usual” governor.
However, voters might only grant Astorino a moderate response. Polls have consistently shown a narrowing gap between the two candidates since the beginning of the year, but Cuomo still remains a strong lead which has often reached above 20 points. The most recent NBC NY/WSJ/Marist poll shows Astorino trailing by 26 percent, meaning the challenger might require an 11th hour miracle if he wishes to snag the highest office in the state.
Though the governor’s race appears to be secure in this historically blue state, key seats in the State Senate and Assembly are up for grabs in the Lower Hudson Valley. Republicans have weathered significant losses in the Senate in 2012, but can retain power by seizing just one more seat.
Recent polls have shown an increasingly narrow margin in the 41st District, which covers Dutchess and western Putnam Counties. According to a recent Siena poll, Democratic Sen. Terry Gipson, who trailed Republican challenger Susan Serino by 12 points earlier in their race, has made a dramatic comeback in the polls and now lies only two points behind his opponent.
In the 40th District, the upcoming retirement of State Sen. Greg Ball has provided an opportunity for Yorktown Republican candidate Terrence Murphy and Democrat Justin Wagner to duke it out. Republicans have pushed hard for the hotly-contested seat, spending more money on Murphy than on any other single Senate candidate.
Other state elections include Westchester’s 37th District, where Democratic Sen. George Latimer will defend his post against Republican Joseph Dillon, Rockland’s 38th District where Democratic Sen. David Carlucci will face off against Republican Donna Held and the 39th District, which covers parts of Orange, Rockland, and Ulster Counties, where Republican Sen. William Larkin Jr. will defend his seat against Democratic challenger Gary Lee.
On the federal level, Rockland and Westchester will be the battlegrounds for two efforts to unseat Democratic incumbents, a pattern repeating itself across the country as Democrats prepare to defend themselves against Republican upstarts hoping to capitalize on weak Democratic support and an energized Republican base.
In the 17th District, which covers all of Rockland and part of Westchester County, Republican challenger Chris Day is seeking to unseat longtime Rep. Nita Lowey, who has represented the region since new district boundaries were drawn in 2013. Chris Day, the son of County Executive Ed Day, has run on promises to snag the 17th District more money and has frequently criticized Lowey for a lack of aggression in securing local support from Capitol Hill.
In the 18th District, which covers all of Orange and Putnam Counties as well as part of Duchess and Westchester Counties, Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney is defending his post against Republican Nan Hayworth, an old rival he unseated in 2012. Siena polls conducted in September and October show a modest but narrowing lead which favors Maloney. Mid-September figures showed an eight percent Democratic advantage, but that lead shrank to only five percent in figures from late October.
Locally, policy change has been at the forefront of the election season in Rockland County governnment. The County’s Legislative leaders have pushed hard for yes votes on a referendum which would amend the county charter to require earlier budget submissions by the County Executive and give the legislature greater power to approve or reject temporary executive appointments, among other items.
County Executive Ed Day has come out in opposition to the changes on the grounds that they do not go far enough. Day has encouraged voters to reject the reforms and advocate for the inclusion of items such as term limits for county legislators and a “two hat rule” to prevent legislators from also holding positions in local government which might lead to conflicts of interest.