New York State suffers from having a high number of legislative seats filled through special election. A special election is an election that is held at an irregular time for that particular office, in order to fill a vacancy caused by the unexpected departure of the current office holder. Candidates for the vacant legislative seat are first chosen by the leadership of their respective political parties in a committee meeting, rather than by the voters registered in that political party during a primary election. The winners of almost all special election contests are determined prior to the special election because the legislative districts are drawn to favor one major political party over another. Due to these partisan dynamics in the drawing of state legislative districts, this means that in almost all special elections, the candidate chosen by the leaders of the dominant party always wins, rendering useless the ballots of the voters since they are simply approving the predetermined candidate choices. The result is that voters do not have a meaningful say in who represents them in the State Legislature until they stand for re-election as incumbents. Special elections are not really elections but coronations.
In New York City, 22 out of 65 NYS Assembly seats are held by incumbents who were first elected to office in special elections, amounting to 34%. Of the State Senate seats in New York City, 3 out of 26 seats, or about 12%, are held by incumbents first elected in special elections. Keeping in mind that incumbency is the strongest factor in a New York City elected official’s election to office, this means that 28% of New York City’s state lawmakers were first elected in a special election where they were chosen first by the party leaders and not by the party’s primary voters.
OPEN AND VACANT SEATS IN NEW YORK CITY
In this primary election cycle in New York City, there are 5 open seats in which incumbents are not seeking re-election. There are an additional 2 seats that are vacant with no official currently representing the district. Without incumbents running for re-election, these seats have the potential to be far more competitive in the primary. However, sometimes they are not, as in the case of Assembly District 70, where the Democratic incumbent who has represented the district for 24 years is not standing for re-election. In that race, there is only one candidate running from each party. Astonishingly, there is no Democratic party contest for a seat that has been a Democratic stronghold, so the party nominee chosen by the party leaders will win facing only token opposition in the general election.
Senate District 36 Vacant
Assembly District 44 Currently held by James Brennan (D)
Assembly District 56 Currently held by Annette Robinson (D)
Senate District 31 Currently held by Adriano Espaillat (D)
Assembly District 70 Currently held by Keith L.T. Wright (D)
Assembly District 23 Currently held by Phillip Goldfeder (D)
Assembly District 33 Vacant