State Senator John DeFrancisco (R-DeWitt) announced his bid for governor this week. He will attempt to become the first person from Upstate New York to be elected governor in 98 years. (photo by Lauren Young)
On Jan. 30, State Sen. John A. DeFrancisco (R-DeWitt) announced his intention to run for governor, joining Republican candidates Assemblyman Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua) and former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra and Democrat Terry Gipson, a former state senator from the Hudson Valley, all vying to unseat Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“After careful consideration, we determined that there’s just too much at stake to sit on the sidelines,” said DeFrancisco at his campaign launch at the Holiday Inn on Electronics Parkway in Salina. “New Yorkers need a leader that they can trust, and one who will fight for what is right for them and their families.”
With that announcement, DeFrancisco effectively opened up the debate over who the next occupant of the 50th State Senate District seat could be — DeFrancisco has held the seat since 1992, and he can’t run for two offices at once. So what does that mean for Central New York?
“There’s no doubt that the area loses some real state-level clout with the departure of Sen. DeFrancisco,” said Dr. Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. “On the other hand, this day was coming one way or another, given his age. So this is a transition we were facing at some point in the not-too-distant future, regardless.”
While DeFrancisco has easily held the seat — he’s run unopposed since 2012, when Green Party candidate Michael Donnelly garnered 15,591 votes to DeFrancisco’s 94,910 — Reeher wondered whether another Republican would be so successful.
“The interesting question it raises is whether the seat will change parties,” he said. “That’s possible, given the district enrollment.”
The 50th District includes 66,083 registered Democrats and 66,303 registered Republicans, as well as 16,470 third-party and 42,825 unaligned voters. It includes the Onondaga County towns of Clay, DeWitt, Manlius, Onondaga, Otisco, Spafford, Skaneateles, Marcellus, Elbridge, Geddes, Van Buren and Lysander, the Onondaga Nation, the Cayuga County towns of Ira, Cato, Brutus and Sennett and part of the city of Auburn.
Cayuga County is one of 206 counties nationwide known as “Pivot Counties,” which voted for Donald Trump in 2016 after voting for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Seven hundred and ten state legislative districts intersect with one or more such counties, including the 50th.
Now Reeher wondered if the 50th itself could pivot after having a Republican representative since 1965 — the original seatholder was Tarky Lombardi, Jr., of Syracuse, who retired in 1992, when DeFrancisco was elected. The 63-member New York State Senate is currently controlled by a coalition of 31 Republicans and the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which regularly caucuses with Republicans. Without DeFrancisco, that balance of power comes into question.
“And with the Senate closely split, this particular election could become very important,” Reeher said. “The open seat also elevates the pressure on the IDC, since the senate composition is even more likely to hang in the balance.”
So who might run for the seat? No one has expressed an interest yet, and neither the Onondaga County Republican Committee nor the Onondaga County Democrats have suggested any candidates. (Neither organization returned repeated requests for interviews from Eagle Newspapers.)
“The natural pool of candidates would be assemblymembers in the district, high-profile local officials and others from businesses or nonprofits with high name recognition in the community,” Reeher said. “I’m sure the political wheels are turning in the heads of about 15 possible candidates right now. They’ll have to get going soon, however.”
While DeFrancisco did not rule out the possibility of running for the 50th District seat again should he fail to secure the Republican nomination, Reeher said he’s never heard of anyone doing so.
“I have a hard seeing that as a viable political option, setting aside the technical aspects of what paperwork needs to be filed, or withdrawn, by when,” he said. “When the two seats are up at the same time, you pretty much have to make a choice, and he’s made it at this point.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.