Democrats won two special elections for the New York state Senate Tuesday but Republicans will remain in charge of the chamber after a key Democratic senator who has sided with Republicans announced that he'll stay put.
Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder has long sat with Senate Republicans, to the frustration of other Democrats. Party leaders had hoped Felder might return if they won Tuesday's elections in Westchester County and the Bronx.
Felder dashed those hopes before the polls even closed, saying he didn't want a fight for Senate control to mar the last weeks of the legislative session.
"I believe it is my obligation to prevent an unprecedented and uncertain late session political battle that will only hurt my constituents and New Yorkers," he said.
Democrats will have a numeric one-seat majority in the 63-seat Senate following Tuesday's victories.
In Westchester County, Democratic Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer beat Republican Julie Killian in a race that Republicans had hoped would be close. With nearly 90 percent of the precincts reporting late Tuesday, Mayer was ahead by 16 percentage points.
In the Bronx, Democratic Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda easily dispatched Republican Patrick Delices and Reform Party candidate Pamela Stewart-Martinez in a Senate district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 20-to-1. With 75 percent of the precincts reporting, Sepulveda had more than 90 percent of the vote.
Democrats said they will now focus on winning more seats in November to build a clear majority and wrest Senate control from the GOP.
"The voters have spoken, and we again have 32 Democrats in the state Senate," said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers, the Democratic leader. "These electoral wins are part of the 'blue wave' sweeping our state and nation which will help even more Senate Democratic candidates win in the upcoming general election."
Republicans will retain control of the Senate at least through the end of the current legislative session in June. While they were disappointed with Tuesday's results, Republicans hailed Felder's announcement of loyalty.
"We're thrilled with Senator Felder's decision to continue to caucus with our majority," said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif.
Democrats already control the Assembly and hold the offices of governor, attorney general and comptroller.
Another breakaway group of Democrats, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, also supported the Senate's Republican leadership but returned to the mainline Democrats this year under pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. On Tuesday, Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said he remains committed to a Democratic takeover of the Senate.
"The governor's position is clear: the Democrats must unify to take back the majority," Lever said. "This conversation will continue in the morning."
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