Tenants PAC helps Todd Kaminsky win special election for state senate

Tenants PAC scored a significant electoral victory on April 19 when Democratic Assembly Member Todd Kaminsky of Long Beach beat Republican trial lawyer Chris McGrath to win the special election for the 9th state senate district on Nassau County's South Shore. Kaminsky has been sworn in to the vacant seat of disgraced former Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who had held it since 1985, when Todd was in the first grade. Skelos was convicted of corruption in December and was sentenced to five years in prison on May 12.

In a hard-fought and very expensive race, Kaminsky won by 886 votes. Both sides pumped huge resources into the race because they understood that its outcome would influence this fall's fight for a majority in the senate. With Kaminsky's win, there are now 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans in the chamber, but the GOP remains in control due to its alliance with a group of renegade Democrats.

Psychologically, this win gives the Democrats a great deal of momentum going into the November 8 statewide election. Because it is a presidential year, there will be a large turnout of Democrats, who tend to stay home in non-presidential years. In 2012, when Barack Obama ran for his second term, a million more voters turned out than did two years later, when the Senate Democrats lost three marginal seats in the Hudson Valley and Rochester area.

Tenants played a significant role in the 9th SD race. There are pockets of rent stabilization in the district, primarily in the city of Long Beach and the villages of Lynbrook and Rockville Centre. But after 19 years of Vacancy Deregulation, the district has lost about half of the stabilized units that existed in 1997. As long as the GOP maintains its narrow majority, we cannot get any pro-tenant legislation through the senate. Kaminsky has pledged to support repeal of Vacancy Deregulation.

Tenants PAC recruited dozens of tenant volunteers from Nassau County and New York City to phone bank and door-knock, and to do Get Out The Vote work on election day on behalf of Kaminsky. Tenants PAC also raised enough funds from tenants to contribute $10,500 to the Kaminsky campaign.

While Governor Andrew Cuomo endorsed Kaminsky, he refused to campaign for him in an area of the state where he remains popular. Cuomo did find the time to run all over the state to campaign for Hillary Clinton, who won the presidential primary on the same day. It is no secret that Andrew Cuomo does not want a Democratic-controlled state senate. President Obama did a robocall for Kaminsky, as did the candidate's great uncle, comedian Mel Brooks (born Kaminsky).

One thing is clear: despite the millions of dollars spent on TV ads and mail, direct contact with voters made a big difference. The grunt work of door knocking, phone banking and palm carding outside polling places, made a tangible impact. Tenants can be proud to have been a part of this, even if our feet paid a price.

Tenants PAC now turns its focus to the November 8 election, where we have a chance of electing pro-tenant Democrats on Long Island and the Hudson Valley. There are no competitive races in the five boroughs of New York City, where only two state senators are Republicans, and neither of them vulnerable. We will be recruiting volunteers to travel to Nassau County, and to Kingston and Poughkeepsie. While not everyone can do this, all tenants can support this effort financially.

We must flip the Senate this year, because doing so two years from now is almost certainly impossible, as 2018 will be another non-presidential year. And with the rent laws set to expire again in 2019, only a Democratic-controlled state senate gives us a chance to reverse the phaseout of our rent protection laws and to enact stronger tenant protections.

That is how high the stakes are. We urge all tenants, and all who care about preserving affordable housing, to support this effort.