While most eyes are focused on winning back Congress in 2018, the significance of winning state governments often flies under the radar. However, as we know, States have the power to serve as constitutional counterweights against a destructive federal government. More so, our state governments are responsible for drawing U.S. House districts. This is considerable. Currently, Republicans control 27 state governments vs. 9 for Democrats - portending a 2nd opportunity for the GOP to gerrymander Congress if more states don’t turn blue before 2020. So as we rev-up for this November’s election, we must be equally cognizant of flipping more state governments as a means to winning and preserving majority gains at the federal level.
And one of the States best positioned to turn blue is New York. In fact, Democratic control of the Empire State hinges on a single seat - and it’s not the Governor’s race. Despite the hype surrounding the battle between Cynthia Nixon and Andrew Cuomo, the Governor’s office is expected to remain solidly in the Party’s hands. Similarly, the NYS Assembly is a stronghold, with Democrats controlling the chamber by a wide 2:1 margin. That leaves the NYS Senate, which is currently GOP controlled by a mere single seat: 32 Republicans vs. 31 Democrats. (*Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn is elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans).
That means, if Democrats can flip one NY state Senate seat from red to blue this November, the Party will gain full “trifecta” control over Albany. Delivering the power and weight of NYS, the 11th largest economy in the world and a global symbol of America’s culture and diversity, would be a resounding national victory - not to mention a stinging referendum against Trump, whose hometown brand is inescapably tied to New York. Furthermore, New York’s 20 million residents would finally have a representative government to pass stalled statewide legislation.
These stakes all hinge on a single state Senate seat: New York’s 7th District, aptly nicknamed “The Key to Albany,” where Democratic candidate Brad Schwartz is challenging the freshman GOP incumbent, Elaine Phillips - who was elected to the seat in 2016 by only 2% of the vote. However, it isn’t just Sen. Phillips’ narrow margin of victory that gives Democrats high hopes. The 7th District actually has 30% MORE registered Democratic than Republican voters - making it far and away the top pick-up opportunity for Democrats to flip in the state senate.
In fact, the 7th District is arguably the only swing seat NYS senate Democrats have left to flip. Decades of legislative gerrymandering have yielded such partisanly entrenched districts that, 61 out of the 63 state senate seats in New York are considered “not-in-play” - even in a year where Democratic momentum is projected at an all-time high heading into midterm elections.
This is the equation which makes the stakes of District 7 so significant. As the only flippable seat for Democrats in the NYS state senate, it also boasts a stunning blue voter advantage, within a climate demonstrably heightened by “blue wave” activity and anti-Trump sentiment. For Democrats the prospect is undeniable: winning the 7th District means winning New York.
Indeed, Democratic candidate Brad Schwartz has dubbed his race for the district, Lucky #7. Schwartz, who declared his candidacy in October, 2017, is a native son of the district which encomapsses northwestern Long Island. A former television editor and producer, Schwartz was motivated to run for office after a devastating battle with illness convinced him that NY needed to institute single-payer healthcare in the face of the GOP federal attack on the ACA (Affordable Care Act, aka “ObamaCare”). Schwartz has proven to be a formidable first-time candidate and stands as the top fundraiser among all challengers for the NY State Senate. His numbers demonstrate strong grassroots support with 95% of donors being individuals. With this momentum, Schwartz has managed to outraise his Republican opponent Phillips, despite her incumbent advantage and 88% of her contributions coming from corporations.
Phillips, who was a former Wall Street analyst and mayor of a small village called Flower Hill, ran as a moderate in 2016. Yet since taking office, she has towed closely to the conservative agenda taking unpopular positions against gun violence prevention and the Child Victims Act [a bill to extend the statute of limitations on childhood victims of sexual abuse]. She has also used her committee posts to block LGBT rights, environmental and climate protections, and ethics reform in Albany - which is statistically the most corrupt state government in America. In fact, Phillips was recently exposed for receiving a hefty annual taxpayer bonus for serving as the Chairwoman of the State Senate’s ethics committee, which meets once every 8 years.
These issues have made Phillips a particularly vulnerable target given she already faces an uphill battle as a freshman, in a predominantly Democratic district, in a predictably blue year.However, the GOP is expected to spend heavily to protect her seat - much like in 2016 when Republican PAC money helped Phillips outspend the former Democrat by almost 2:1. In that election, District 7 broke the record as the most expensive state legislative race in NY history. And this year, it is again expected to be among the most expensive state races in the nation.
Given the unique stakes of New York’s 7th District, this race is certainly one worth watching.