With a handful of new voters to court, state Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, is looking to claim his 11th term in the 50th state Senate District in November.
The new voters come from this year’s redistricting process. Those new voters don’t change the party balance of his purple — almost equallyRepublican and Democratic –district. So redistricting is not expected to play a large role in his race, political scientists say.
For Central New York state senators, the changes will be minor, said Kristi Andersen, a political scientist at Syracuse University. “It means they have to develop new mail listings and call them because their constituencies change a bit, but I don’t think it’s going to change the outcome,” Andersen said.
For the last 20 years, DeFrancisco has represented the 50th State Senate District. As of April 12, he had no Democratic challengers for the upcoming election. Both parties have until July 12 to file for candidacy. The general election will be Nov. 6.
Redistricting is done every 10 years. The process redraws political mapsbased on new census data. Under the 2010 census, New York gained one state district bringing New York’s total number of Senate districts to 63. But Senate Democrats have filed a lawsuit against the new district, saying creating it violates the state Constitution.
In the 50th State Senate District, little has changed. Before redistricting, the 50th State Senate District covered the western portion of Syracuse and most of Onondaga County. The district had 191,090 registered voters, according to the New York State Board of Elections. The party breakdown looks like this:
- 34 percent — or 64,649 — Democrats
- 33 percent — or 63,721 — Republicans
- 2 percent — or 3,402 — Conservatives
- .4 percent — or 895 — Working Families
- 5 percent — or 9,611 — Independence Party
- .2 percent — or 409 — Green Party
- 25 percent — or 48,301 — unaffiliated with any party
After redistricting, the 50th State Senate District lost the towns of Salina and Cicero, but gained the town Onondaga, the Onondaga Nation and Manlius. The state elections board will not have voter enrollment numbers for the new district until the end of April, said John Conklin, a spokesman for the board.
DeFrancisco declined interview requests for this story.
It is not uncommon for a single state senator to control an area for a while because it is hard to generate opposition if he has been doing a decent job, SU political scientist Andersen said. That can be both positive and negative for voters.
“The positive, people will tell you, is that seniority matters in all the legislative bodies,” Andersen said. “I think that the negatives are really the fact that in a democracy, you want a choice. You want a valid choice every time. To the extent that someone’s really entrenched, that choice doesn’t exist.”
DeFrancisco is a lifelong resident of Syracuse. He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering at Syracuse University in 1968. In 1971, he got his law degree from Duke University. He and his wife, Linda, have three adult children and eight grandchildren. He still works with the DeFrancisco and Falgiatano Law Firm.
DeFrancisco has not lost a race since his first run in 1977. That year he won a seat on the Syracuse City School District Board of Education. From 1982 to 1992, DeFrancisco was on the Syracuse Common Council.
In 1992, DeFrancisco won his seat the state senate. He is the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which gives him significant influence in reviewing the governor’s proposed state budget.
One bill DeFrancisco has often cited as a proud accomplishment is the Bill Leaf-Brandi Woods law. Bill Leaf was a Syracuse TV news reporter. Brandi Woods was a 15-year-old from Memphis, N.Y. Both were killed by drunk drivers who had a history of drunk-driving offenses. The law, passed in 2006, increases penalties for repeat DUI offenders.
Maria Leaf, Bill Leaf’s sister, worked closely with DeFrancisco to get the bill passed. She remembers DeFrancisco calling her shortly after her brother’s death to offer support and suggest the law, Maria Leaf said.
“I’m forever thankful to him for getting the law through,” Maria Leaf said. “Folks are a lot safer because of that legislation.”
Jeff DeFrancisco, John DeFrancisco’s son and a former Common Councilor, sees his father’s strength in office as being tough and speaking his mind. Jeff DeFrancisco cited John DeFrancisco’s position on the Destiny USAproject as an instance of his father’s toughness.
Destiny USA is the name for the expansion of the Carousel Center mall. John DeFrancisco exhaustively researched the project and concluded it was not in tax payers’ best interest because of the tax breaks for the developer, Jeff DeFrancisco said.
“He’s a very honest and upfront person and he always does what he thinks is right,” Jeff DeFrancisco said. “He’s done that from early on in his career and he’ll continue to do that.”
For his political fundraising, John DeFrancisco had $818,326 in his two campaign accounts as of Jan. 17. January was the last time candidates were required to disclose their campaign finance reports. The next time is July 16.
Here’s a snapshot of his campaign finances:
- At the end of July 2011, DeFrancisco had $771,931.
- Between July 2011 and January 2012, he raised an additional $117,655.
- During that same period, he spent $71,260.
Over the last five years, his largest contributors have been law firms or political action committees associated with the legal profession. Since 2007, they have given him $116,258. During that same period, the health industry has been his second largest contributor with $110,295 and unions his third with $75,350.
Because DeFrancisco has not faced serious opposition, he has spent a large chunk of his money supporting other Republican candidates. For example, of the $71,260 he spent during the last disclosure period, 26 percent — or $18,761 — went to Republican candidates or committees.
The fundraising habits of both DeFrancisco and state Sen. Dave Valesky, D-Oneida, of the old 49th State Senate District and now the 53rd State Senate District have recently come under fire from Common Cause of New York, a government watchdog organization. Among other issues, Common Cause criticized both for raising large amounts outside their districts. In DeFrancisco’s case, since 2005, more than 80 percent — or $1 million — of his campaign donations have come from outside of his district.
(Rebecca Kheel is a senior with dual majors in newspaper journalism and history.)