OSWEGO -- In a blow to Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and the state Republican Party, Democratic Assemblyman Darrel Aubertine won the race for the 48th Senate District on Tuesday night.
With all districts reporting, Aubertine, of Cape Vincent, was beating Republican Assemblyman Will Barclay of Pulaski, 27,901 to 25,345 votes, or 52 to 47 percent. Barclay would have had to claim an overwhelming majority of the estimated 3,800 absentee ballots sent out by election officials.
Barclay conceded the race to Aubertine at about 10:30 p.m.
"Life goes on," he said. "We have to make sure now that central New York continues to be represented."
Democrats were celebrating, beyond the immediate victory in one race. Aubertine's win pares the Republican Senate majority to 32-30, a one-seat advantage. All the senators are up for re-election in the fall. Democrats, who already hold all the statewide elected posts and the Assembly majority, are determined to take over the Republicans' last bastion in state government.
"We think there is a lot of evidence that this is going to carry over down the ballot and help us win some congressional races, finally flip the Senate," said Democratic Chairwoman June O'Neill, a North Country native. "Really show that we can meet them and we can beat 'em."
State Republican Party officials didn't immediately return calls for comment.
With the race over, political observers and party insiders predict there will likely be shake-ups in the leadership of one or both Senate conferences. With the Republican loss, some predict that Bruno, R-Brunswick, may be forced to step down. Sens. Tom Libous and Dean Skelos have both been waiting in the wings to replace Bruno. But Libous of Binghamton took a leadership role in the 48th, and with a Republican defeat, he may very well be passed over for the top spot in the Republican conference.
With Democrats seeing the majority now in reach, some in the party have speculated there may be a change in leadership there as well. Deputy Senate Minority Leader Jeff Klein, D-Westchester, has been discussed as a possible replacement for current minority leader, Malcolm Smith, D-Queens.
Voters in the district have faced an onslaught of commercials, campaign events, fliers, phone calls and door-knocking by volunteers since January, when Republican Sen. James Wright stepped down after 15 years. The race has been the focus of statewide attention for the two parties and the two Senate conferences, who have thrown millions of dollars and thousands of hours of manpower into the race.
It is likely that well over $2 million will have been spent on this Senate race alone, second only to the special election last year on Long Island, which cost over $5 million and resulted in Democrat Craig Johnson winning the traditionally Republican senate seat. The 48th Senate District had been Republican for nearly a century.
"This is sending a message," O'Neill said. "Just like Craig Johnson on Long Island, there are no more safe Republican seats. We can meet them, we can compete with them on their 10-yard line."
On the final day of the campaign, hundreds of staff members and volunteers battled slush and gray skies to get out the vote for their candidates. Snow fell throughout the day and night all over the district.
The campaigns were undeterred by the elements, sending volunteers out to canvass neighborhoods, stand on street corners with signs and drive voters to the polls.
The consensus in the campaigns was that the snow, which didn't start sticking until sunset, would not deter voters.
"It's 30 degrees here, which is downright balmy," said Aubertine campaign spokesman Cort Ruddy, a North Country native. Barclay, who was campaigning in Watertown on Monday said, "We're a hardy bunch up here in the North Country."
The campaign didn't get any nicer in the final hours. The Barclay campaign issued a press statement Monday evening, entitled "Election Eve Spitzer-Aubertine Dirty Trick Exposed: Governor's Henchmen Caught Red-Handed in Vote Suppression Plot," accusing the Aubertine campaign of "dirty tricks," an apparent allusion to Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the travel records scandal he has been embroiled in at the Capitol since last summer.
The Aubertine campaign responded that it was not involved in any activities alleged in the news release. "From day one, Will Barclay has run a negative campaign and for them to come out pointing now is a bit absurd."
The campaigns weren't the only ones to have a late night on the eve of the election. The election officials in Jefferson, St. Lawrence, and Oswego counties scrambled to comply with a court order handed down around 6 p.m. Monday evening that put Barclay on the Independence Party line of the ballot, changing voting machines across the 3,000-square-mile district. "We were prepared, but it was still kind of hairy," said Kristy Pickett, the Republican deputy election official in Jefferson County.
Election workers worked around the clock to ensure that machines were ready when polls opened at 6 a.m. For the few machines that weren't ready, voters cast their vote on emergency ballots.
Irene Jay Liu can be reached at 454-5081 or by e-mail at email@example.com.