ALBANY — A Buffalo-area assemblyman accused of sexually harassing staffers is leaving a state Legislature that already has nine empty seats, and it’s not clear if special elections will be held to fill the offices that represent an estimated 1 million-plus New Yorkers.
The unusually high number of vacant seats is not expected to have a major effect on the day-to-day operations of the 212-member Legislature, where legislative leaders keep tight control over the flow of business. But open government advocates are concerned about the losses of state senators and Assembly members as they begin their regular legislative session.
The empty seats could affect votes on controversial issues and translate into a loss of representation in those districts, which stretch from Long Island to western New York, said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York.
“I think it has great significance if the residents of the districts are not represented at all in one house or the other when these important policy issues are being decided,” said Lerner, whose group is advocating for special elections.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo can call special elections for those seats before voters head to the polls statewide in November, but he is not obligated to. Asked of the governor’s plans on Monday, an administration spokesman referred to Cuomo’s comments after the November elections in which he said there were no plans at that time. Cuomo had noted the need to balance the elections’ costs with the communities’ rights to representation.
Special elections also can be a financial drain on political parties, and their outcomes are notoriously hard to predict because turnout tends to be low. The majority parties in the Assembly and Senate did not comment Monday on whether they were seeking special elections.
Most of the current vacancies are in the 150-member Assembly, where Democrats hold a comfortable majority.
Seven former Assembly members were elected in November to other offices, with four of them taking seats on the New York City Council. The number of vacancies will grow to eight with the exit of Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, who announced his retirement Sunday amid claims by female staffers that he harassed them.
Gabryszak said he never requested sexual contact, and that there was only “mutual banter.”
A federal jury in Manhattan could decide the fate soon of another Democratic Assemblyman, Eric Stevenson, who is accused of bribery charges. Lawmakers convicted of felonies are automatically removed from office.
In the 62-member Senate, Democrat Eric Adams was elected Brooklyn borough president and Republican Charles Fuschillo left with the new year to become chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
Without Fuschillo, there are 29 Republicans and one conservative Democrat who attends conference with them. The Republicans control the Senate in a coalition with four breakaway Democrats.