Wednesday, December 8, 2010

UPDATE: NY Senate Balance Still in Question

Sen. Craig M. Johnson  (D)
A spokesperson from Senator Craig M. Johnson's office has confirmed to me that the appeal of Judge Ira B. Warshawsky's ruling giving the 67th District Senate seat to GOP challenger Jack Martins is going forward. As I previously reported, the appeal was filed on Monday. Written briefs are due to be submitted before the end of the week with oral arguments starting next week. There is currently a stay of execution on the lower court's ruling. As a result, the current seat count of the New York Senate is 31 held by Republicans, 30 by Democrats.

Jack Martins  (R)
If the Appellate court affirms the lower court ruling, Martins will be certified the winner and the GOP will control the chamber, 32 to 30. If the court orders that a recount of the ballots proceed and Johnson is found to be the winner, the chamber will be tied with 31 votes for each party.

If this is the final result, there remains the question of how tied votes will be resolved. The Democrats say that incoming Lt. Governor Robert J. Duffy, in his capacity as President of the Senate, will cast the tie-breaker. The law on this is unclear, however, and if this happens, the GOP will almost certainly challenge this in court.

Sen. Kevin Parker  (D)
Also unclear is what, if any, action the Senate will take concerning Sen. Kevin Parker, convicted yesterday in Brooklyn Supreme Court on two counts of misdemeanor criminal mischief. Parker was charged with felony assault for allegedly attacking a photographer from the New York Post in May, 2009, breaking the photographer's finger, smashing his camera and vandalizing the interior of his car. He will be sentenced on Jan. 27.  If he had been found guilty of the felony charge, he would have automatically lost his seat. Because he was only convicted on the misdemeanor charges, however, it will be up to his Senate colleagues to determine his fate.

Republicans are expected to call for sanctions that could lead to his expulsion from the Senate, as happened in February with Hiram Monserrate, also found guilty of misdemeanor charges while being cleared of more serious felony assault charges. "A commission should look at Parker... His conduct definitely is unbecoming of a NY State Senator," said Sen. Martin Golden (R).

The Democrats, while not defending his actions, appear unwilling to remove him from the Senate as they did with Monserrate. If he were to lose his seat, it would remain vacant until a special election could be held, guaranteeing the GOP majority status, regardless of the outcome of the Johnson/Martin court case. "I'm not advocating that this warrants expulsion... The heinous crime of domestic violence demands a tougher standard," said Senate leader John Sampson (D), who also voted against the removal of Monserrate.

Congressman Tim Bishop  (D)               Randy Altschuler  (R)
In related news, the last disputed contest for the House of Representatives came to an end this morning when Republican challenger Randy Altschuler conceded the victory to Democratic incumbent Tim Bishop. Initial vote counts had given the victory to Bishop election night, but the next day election officials announced that a mistake had been made. After a second count, Altschuler was declared the victor. Those results have been in dispute for over a month, and as of last night the tally had Bishop ahead by 263 votes, with 977 absentee ballots remaining to be counted. In announcing his decision to end his legal challenge to the vote count, Altschuler's emailed statement said, "After  consulting with my family and campaign staff, I am ending my campaign and offering congratulations to Congressman Tim Bishop on his victory." Any further efforts to challenge the results would, in his words, "place an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers of Suffolk County."

These long-contested contests, decided by only a few hundred ballots, give the lie to the idea that one person's vote in unimportant. Clearly, every vote counts.

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