By Greg David
From Crain’s New York Business
Published: June 15, 2008
When someone writes a book on the disappearance of the Republican Party in New York state, the last chapter will open on Staten Island in the spring of 2008. Popular homegrown congressman Vito Fossella faced a competitive but winnable race in November until he had too much to drink one night and was arrested while on his way to visit a former lover with whom he had a love child.
It was foreseeable that he would have to withdraw from the race during the ensuing scandal. It was completely unpredictable that the GOP would be unable to recruit an attractive candidate for the seat, settling for an unknown businessman named Frank Powers whose claim to fame is that he serves on the much-disliked MTA board.
No anecdote is more telling about the decline of the Republican Party in New York than the party leadership's decision to give up so easily on their one significant remaining office in the city. The story isn't that much different in more conservative upstate.
Before the 2004 election, Republicans held 10 of New York's 29 seats in the U.S. House. After the 2006 election, they were down to six. This year, three seats are in jeopardy in addition to Staten Island. Longtime GOP congressmen James Walsh in central New York and Thomas Reynolds in western New York are retiring because defeat seems likely. Randy Kuhl in the Finger Lakes region is facing another challenge from Eric Massa, a former Navy officer who came close to defeating him in 2006. The Democrats who won election two years ago-Michael Arcuri upstate, Kirsten Gillibrand in Albany and John Hall in the city's northern suburbs-now appear secure.
Two Democrats have represented New York in the U.S. Senate since Chuck Schumer upset Al D'Amato in 1998. Eliot Spitzer's victory in the governor's race gave the party all three statewide posts two years ago. The House delegation could be 27-2 next year. The last time the state voted for a Republican for president was in Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide.
The transformation of New York into a one-party state is part of a national trend. In the 18 states that voted for Al Gore and John Kerry in the last two presidential campaigns, Democrats hold a 32-4 edge in Senate seats. In states that voted for George Bush, the Republican dominance is 39-11. The divisions are reflected down the political ladder.
The last line of defense for Republicans in New York is the state Senate, where GOP leader Joseph Bruno clings to a two-vote majority. Seven of his members are at least 75 years old, and most of them represent districts that have turned Democratic. Those senior citizens are hanging on in more ways than one, but they will face an enormous hurdle in November. In both of the last two presidential elections, Democrats captured 57% of the vote in New York. Surely, Barack Obama will do as well this time, and the new voters he brings to the polls will tip the balance of power in the state Senate.
Once that happens, the political equation of the state will change dramatically because Democrats will control the once-a-decade redistricting after the 2010 census. They will redraw both congressional and legislative districts, ensuring their hold for years to come-and a completely new political dynamic will emerge.