Updated December 4, 2012, to include the grand finale!
Light your Tiki torches and grab a bathing suit, because Survivor: State Senate Edition has begun.
On Election Day, Democrats made an unexpected power grab by claiming at least 31 and as many as 33 seats in the New York State Senate.
Two races – the contest between Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican George Amedore near Albany, and the competition between incumbent Republican Stephen Saland and Democratic challenger Terry Gipson in the Hudson Valley – are still too close to call. But the Republicans are not waiting until the votes are tallied to see if they can hold onto their majority.
Dean Skelos, the GOP majority leader, is already plotting the formation of a coalition government with Jeff Klein, who heads the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) — a renegade group of four Democrats who broke ranks to form their own caucus last year.
And at least one senator-elect, Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, has said that he is open to caucusing with either party, and that he’ll likely pick the one that grants him the most influence and power.
The result is a field of shifting alliances and political subterfuge worthy of a reality show. In this uncertain landscape, only one thing thing is for sure: One of the parties is going to get voted off the island.
In the meantime, party leaders and insurgents are positioning themselves for power. Here are four of the likelier scenarios that could decide which party ends up with control of the State Senate, and whose Tiki torch will be extinguished.
Let the State Senate tribal council begin!
Introducing the cast
In the State Senate, one party needs to claim 32 out of 63 members to gain the majority. Currently, seven of those seats could go either way.
Republican State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, upper right, seeks the loyalties of the Independent Democratic Conference (center): David Carlucci, Diane Savino, Jeffrey Klein and David Valesky.
Democratic State Senate Minority Leader John Sampson, upper left, is vying to woo the independent caucus back to his party’s fold.
Newly elected Democratic Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder, second row from top, has not yet revealed which party he plans to caucus with.
Still locked in undecided races: Democratic insurgent Terry Gipson and GOP incumbent Stephen Saland (third row from top) and Democratic challenger Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican incumbent George Amedore.
A Democratic Tribal Council
Scenario: Democrats Tkaczyk and Gipson maintain their respective leads over Republicans Amedore and Saland in the two remaining Senate races, and the Democratic leadership convinces the four members of the Independent Democratic Caucus to vote with their party.
Result: Democrats win a majority in the Senate, and the Republicans are voted off the island – or at least out of the majority leader’s office.
Republicans Find A Hidden Immunity Idol
Scenario: Tkaczyk and Gipson claim victory, but the Democrats are unable to wrangle the independent caucus.
Result: Republicans and the IDC vote in favor of a GOP-led senate — presumably with some kind of concessions to the Klein-led independent caucus — and Skelos gets to keep his Tiki torch.
A Republican Tribal Council
Scenario: Republicans Saland and Amedore triumph over Gipson and Tkaczyk in their respective state Senate races.
Result: The GOP maintains its majority in the state Senate and Skelos never has to share his Tiki torch with Klein.
A Shifting Alliance
Scenario: Gipson maintains his lead over Saland, but Tkaczyk loses her razor-thin, 139-vote edge over Amedore.
Result: The Democrats will have a 32-seat majority, which means that the Republicans will still have to woo either the independent caucus or Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who is willing to work with whichever party helps him deliver the goods to his district.
Update, November 14, 2012: The Felder defection
On Tuesday, State Senator-elect Simcha Felder from Brooklyn announced that he would be caucusing with the Dean Skelos-led Republicans, leaving Democrats and leader John Sampson in a tight spot. Now, in order to have a majority when the new legislative session starts, Sampson will have to corral all four members of the renegade Independent Democratic Conference, and hope that members of his party prevail in both of the remaining undecided races.
Update, December 4, 2012: The Grand Finale — Sharing the Torch
In a finale befitting a reality television show, the negotiations over control of the State Senate concluded on Tuesday with an unprecedented power-sharing agreement between Republicans and the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference.
Leadership of the chamber will alternate every two weeks between Republican Dean Skelos and Democrat Jeff Klein, who leads the IDC, according to the agreement. The pact is a coup for Klein, who will share authority with Skelos over committee assignments, budget negotiations, and the Senate’s daily agenda.
The deal also is also a coup for Skelos, since he will retain partial leadership over the chamber despite the fact that his party only controls 29 seats to the Democrats’ 32, with a pair of races still undecided.
Senator Malcolm Smith also announced Tuesday that he had joined the IDC, which also includes Senators Diane Savino, David Carlucci, and David Velesky.
The tribe has spoken.