ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – Two more scandal-ensnared assemblymen are leaving a state Legislature that already had nine empty seats, and it’s unclear if special elections will be held to fill the offices, which represent an estimated 1 million-plus people.
The 11 vacant seats aren’t expected to have a major effect on the day-to-day operations of the 212-member Legislature, in which legislative leaders keep tight control over the flow of business. But good-government advocates were concerned about the losses of state senators and Assembly members as they began their regular legislative session Monday.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the empty seats could affect votes on controversial issues and translate into losses of representation in those districts, which stretch from Long Island to western New York.
“I think it has great significance if the residents of the districts are not represented at all in one house or the other when these important policy issues are being decided,” said Lerner, whose group is advocating for special elections.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo can call special elections for those seats before voters head to the polls statewide in November, but he is not obligated to. Asked of the governor’s plans on Monday, an administration spokesman referred to Cuomo’s comments after the November elections in which he said there were no plans at that time. Cuomo had noted the need to balance the elections’ costs with the communities’ rights to representation.
Special elections also can be a financial drain on political parties, and their outcomes are notoriously hard to predict because turnout tends to be low.
Republicans who control the Senate as part of a coalition did not comment Monday on whether they were seeking special elections.
Most of the current vacancies are in the 150-member Assembly, where Democrats hold a comfortable majority.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters on Monday that if asked by Cuomo he would advise special elections. But he added that they could not legally hold them before the state budget is due April 1, meaning the bulk of legislative work is likely to be done before the newly elected lawmakers take their seats.
“It’s something the governor is going to have to make a determination on,” he said.
Seven former Assembly members were elected in November to other offices, with four of them taking seats on the New York City Council.
On Monday, Democratic Bronx Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was convicted of bribery charges after a weeklong trial in Manhattan federal court. Lawmakers convicted of felonies are automatically removed from office. A lawyer for Stevenson had argued during the trial that the government used a corrupt informant to trick Stevenson into saying things that sounded incriminating.
On Sunday, Democratic Buffalo-area Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak announced his retirement amid claims by female staffers that he harassed them. Gabryszak said he never requested sexual contact and there was only “mutual banter.”
The number of Assembly vacancies grows to nine.
In the 62-member Senate, Democrat Eric Adams was elected Brooklyn borough president and Republican Charles Fuschillo left with the new year to become chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
Without Fuschillo, there are 29 Republicans and one conservative Democrat who attends conferences with them. The Republicans control the Senate in a coalition with four breakaway Democrats.