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New York Elections


November 1994

by Nathan Riley

The Republican surge primarily affected statewide offices in New York; legislative membership is essentially unchanged. The State Senate remains Republican, the Assembly Democratic. Mario Cuomo appeared headed for an ignominious defeat until he received the endorsement of New York City's popular new Republican Mayor -- Rudolph W. Giuliani. But the Republicans recovered from this setback.

Arthur Finkelstein, U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato's campaign consultant, masterminded the winning campaigns of Governor-elect George Pataki and the new Republican Attorney General Dennis Vacco, a former Federal prosecutor from Buffalo. Senator D'Amato is the biggest winner in the New York election. His leadership of the state GOP appears impregnable.

The election is as big a defeat for Mayor Giuliani as it is for the Democrats. He has lost his base in the Republican party, the Governor-elect's hostility will be implacable, and the new Republican Congress will show minimal interest in New York City's problems. Will Mayor Giuliani replace his Republican support with liberal Democratic backing?

The state Assembly is the last bastion of Democratic strength and Speaker Sheldon Silver may become the most important Democrat in the state. George Pataki spent years suffering as a member of the Republican minority in this house. His old Republican colleagues are playing prominent roles during transition, and expect to revenge past wrongs. The new Governor will appeal to upstate Democrats who favor tax cuts over spending, and use them to pressure the downstate Assembly leadership. This dynamic could place African-Americans and urban liberals in the difficult position of voting for programs that their constituents find objectionable. Present arrangements should further marginalize the left wing of New York City Democrats.

Drug legalization was a subsidiary issue in the campaign. Two of the six candidates for Governor spoke favorably of legalization. Of these men, Thomas Golisano, played the pivotal role of spoiler. His candidacy was designed to attract individuals who would otherwise vote Republican. H. Ross Perot endorsed Golisano and campaigned with him. Pataki ran commercials attacking Golisano's support of legalization of drugs and prostitution. Golisano retreated from these positions, nonetheless it marked the first time in recent memory legalizing consensual crimes became a political issue in New York State.

Nathan Riley of Albany NY is an experienced observer of the New York political scene.