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October 4, 2013

GOP courting Pete Lopez to run for state Senate seat

Lopez would have to move his residence into district

Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

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Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, is being considered by the state GOP as the candidate for a Senate district seat that was won earlier this year by Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, following a high-spending race and a protracted recount, according to Albany political insiders.
 
Contacted by The Daily Star, Lopez, 52, did not rule out the possibility that he would make a stab for the seat, which was created by the Senate Republicans two years ago in a move that was widely seen as helping the party retain a majority in Albany.
 
Lopez, in fact, pointed out that 60 percent of the Senate district in question is within the Assembly district he now represents. He also highlighted the fact that he was raised in the Rotterdam area -- one of the most populous locales within the Senate district -- and still has family ties there.
 
In response to questions, he acknowledged he would have to move into the Senate district if he were to decide to challenge Tkaczyk.
 
"I've had some people talk to me about it, but it's not formally in front of me at this point," Lopez said.
 
But with state legislative office offering just two-year terms, the political calendar moves swiftly, and the general election is only 13 months away. For the congressional seat that overlaps part of the same Senate district and will also be decided in November 2014, Democrat Sean Eldridge has already declared himself a candidate and is aggressively raising money in a bid to oust Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook.
 
A spokesman for state Senate Republicans, Scott Rief, acknowledged that the GOP conference would relish picking up Tkaczyk's seat.
 
"We certainly think that is a seat we can win," Rief told The Daily Star.
 
Rief argued that constituents would benefit if voters made a change because a Republican senator would be able to drive more resources to the district because Democrats are in the minority in the upper chamber of the state Legislature.
 
Tkaczyk spokesman Jim Plastiras said today he had not heard that Lopez is a potential candidate for the Senate seat. He said he expects his boss will seek re-election next year but noted that no formal announcement of her political intentions has been made.
 
The 46th Senate District includes all of Greene County and Montgomery counties, and portions of Schenectady, Albany and Ulster counties.
 
The 127th Assembly District represented by Lopez includes all of Schoharie County, plus portions of Chenango, Columbia, Delaware, Greene, Otsego and Ulster counties.
 
Lopez, a  former Schoharie County clerk and the father of four children, has held the Assembly seat since January 2007. He was unopposed in his next two outings and won handily in 2012. His biggest political obstacle came last year when the initial draft of new district maps wiped out much of his district. But the lines were altered again, and he ended up keeping much of his former territory.
 
Tkaczyk is still in her first term in the Senate, topping former state Assemblyman George Amedore by only 18 votes in an election where more than 126,000 ballots were cast. The contest led to a recount that dragged out for two months, and she was not installed in the seat until after Jan. 1. The Tkaczyk-Amedore race resulted in heavy campaign spending, with both sides burning through a total of $2.4 million.
 
Tkaczyk a former school board president, reeled in $260,000 from Jonathan Soros, the son of liberal billionaire George Soros, and another $250,000 from Eldridge and his wealthy husband, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.
 
Though Tkaczyk's victory gave Democrats a 33-30 majority in upper house, four of those Democrats have joined  the Independent Democratic Conference. They have aligned themselves with the Republicans on many key issues, putting the new coalition in charge of the Senate. As a result, Republicans and their Democratic allies have greater control of pork barrel spending, and are thus able to bring back more bacon to their districts than the Democrats who remained loyal to their party.
 
Lopez now sits in an Assembly GOP conference that has little say on legislation, with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, having full control over which bills reach the floor.
 
As for the Senate, a Republican pickup of the 46th Senate District and any further gains by the Independent Democratic Conference would further weaken the Democratic efforts to regain control of the chamber.
 
Insiders say the IDC is poised to run a challenger against Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins of Westchester County and has attempted to coax former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a maverick Democrat, to challenger her, Brodsky recently said he has no plans to run for that seat.