For the second consecutive election, voters in the 53rd State Senate District could be limited to only one choice at the voting booth in November.
As of March 29, state Sen. David J. Valesky, D-Oneida, is running unopposed again. And a contender is unlikely to step up before the official April 10 deadline for candidates to declare, political experts say. The election is Nov. 4, 2014.
“Many parties, especially Republicans, seem to be having a hard time digging up candidates in general right now in central New York,” said Kristi Andersen, a political scientist and the Chapple Family Professor of Citizenship and Democracy at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.
Valesky did not respond to six phone requests and four email requests for interviews for this story.
In 2004, Valesky won his first term from what was then the 49th State Senate District. Under mandatory redistricting in 2012, it was renamed the 53rd State Senate District. It now includes most of the city of Syracuse and the southeastern corner of Onondaga County, all of Madison County and two towns in Oneida County. District lines change every 10 years to reflect changes in population, according to the Onondaga County Board of Elections.
In the 53rd State Senate District, Democrats have a strong advantage in voter registration. Of the district’s 173,702 registered voters, 40 percent — or 69,774 — are Democrats; 28 percent — or 48,534 — are Republicans; and 24 percent — or 41,489 — are unaffiliated with a party, according to the New York State Board of Elections. State senators serve two years and earn just more than $79,000 a year.
For Valesky, redistricting resulted in a more diverse constituency: His district used to include mostly rural and suburban neighborhoods, said SU political scientist Andersen. Now it also contains more urban interests. “He has a lot of different issues that he has to speak to,” she said.
Before getting into politics, Valesky worked as the vice-president of communications at WCNY from 1995 to 2004. During that time, he also hosted the midday talk show “Hour CNY.” In his last contested race in 2010, he beat Republican Andrew Russo with 52 percent of the votes — about 4,000 votes.
In the same year, in a controversial move, Valesky and three other senators effectively defected from the traditional Democratic Party to form a breakaway conference to go into a control-sharing deal with Republicans. The group calls itself the Independent Democratic Conference.
Valesky has told The Post-Standard that the move was an attempt to find bi-partisanship in the Senate. It also had to do with “a frustration with the Senate Democratic caucus and some of its dysfunction,” Grant Reeher, a political scientist at SU, said in an email interview.
The decision sparked controversy because it caused Democrats to lose control of the state Senate. Democrats hold 32 seats and would be running the chamber if not for the Independent Democratic Conference, which now has five members. Republicans hold 29 seats.
But Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner supported Valesky’s move. In a press release, Miner said: “I can confidently say that Senator Dave Valesky’s views on core Democratic ideals are firmly in line with the party, and his decade-long voting record is proof.”
Among Valesky’s stances on key issues:
- The economy: In 2013,Valesky sponsored a bill that establishes a career and technical education diploma so high school graduates leave with a career-focused education. It is being considered by the Committee on Education.
- The city of Syracuse: In 2013, Valesky voted in favor of an act that increases the number of land banks in New York to 20. Land banks restore foreclosed property and sell the homes for a low cost. There are two in Syracuse.
- Marriage equality: He also supported a law that authorizes same-sex marriage.
Miner’s support and the absence of a challenger as of March 29 don’t necessarily mean Valesky has a free pass at re-election, said Dustin Czarny, commissioner at the Onondaga County Board of Elections. “It’s a long time until elections,” he said. “Just because he is unopposed by a major party doesn’t mean a minor party challenger might not pop up.”
But Valesky’s election track record probably discourages challengers, said Czarny. In 2008, Valesky won by 33,000 votes and was unopposed in 2012.
“It’s hard to recruit candidates,” said Czarny, “to go against somebody who wins so handily.”
(Joe Infantino is a senior majoring in newspaper and online journalism with a minor in anthropology.)