Vacant seat means no voice for district in Assembly

GHENT — Assuming all goes as scheduled, Marcus Molinaro will have taken the oath of Office as Dutchess County executive Thursday morning at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, leaving major parts of Columbia and Dutchess counties without an assemblyman.

It’s not at all unusual for politicians to move up a rung on the political ladder and leave a vacancy behind, but so far the governor has not indicated whether he will call a special election to fill the seat previously held by Mr. Molinaro or leave it vacant until November 2012, when all seats in the state Assembly will be up for grabs in the general election. What makes this year and this vacancy slightly different is that state government must redraw the state election districts for the next decade sometime in the next few weeks, so the 103rd District that Mr. Molinaro represented could look very different from the way it does now.

A spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday, December 27 that he would check with other state officials to see whether there was any plan afoot for a special election. He did not call back before press deadline Wednesday.

If there is a special election, it would have to take place between 60 and 70 days after the governor’s announcement and be complete before April 1. But the law does not require Mr. Cuomo to call for a special  election and it does not permit him to appoint a replacement.

Last week, before Mr. Molinaro took up his new duties, a spokesman for the then-assemblyman said the district and Albany offices would remain open to assist people here until a new assemblyman is elected. The spokesman did not say what would happen if there is no special election.

Local Republican and Democratic politicians contacted for this story said they had heard that people in both major parties in both counties are interested in running for the seat in the 103rd District, but no one could provide a name, nor had anyone heard what the governor plans to do.

“We’re assuming there’s going to be a special election,” said Virginia Martin, the Democratic election commissioner in Columbia County, who acknowledged that the board had not received any official word on the matter from the state. As for the possibility that it might go unfilled, she said, “In a way it’s a shame to see the seat left vacant,” adding, “on the other hand, it would be one less election.”

Not much is likely to change in terms of the balance of power if there is a special election, because Democrats hold a commanding majority in the Assembly, although at the moment it is two votes short of a “veto-proof” majority. The political calculus in Albany includes the state Senate, which is in the hands of the GOP, and it has a slim majority bolstered by four Democrats who have started their own, independent caucus.

Redistricting, always a contentious issue, is on a fast track now, because it has to be completed for congressional districts in February to allow enough time for the presidential primary in June. Both houses of the state legislature must approve a congressional redistricting bill — the state is losing two seats in the House of Representatives — and the redrawing of lines of the Assembly and state Senate. The governor has said he will veto any bill that does not meet his standard of fairness.

As it stands now, the 103rd District runs from the Town of Canaan in northeastern Columbia County to the Putnam County border with Dutchess County. All the towns on the east side of this county — Austerlitz, Hillsdale, Copake and Ancram — are in the district as are the Towns of Claverack, Ghent, Greenport, Stockport and the City of Hudson. The district includes 12 Dutchess County towns, including Red Hook, Milan, Millerton and Pine Plains and most of the eastern side of that county stretching south to the Putnam County border.

One veteran politician said that the absence of candidates for the 103rd district so far may just be the timing, because the public simply isn’t much interested in politics during the holiday season. 


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