McDonald Declines To Pursue Third Party Bid

Republican State Senator Roy McDonald will not pursue a third-party bid to hold onto his seat. | HVCC.EDU

Two days after it became clear that Senator Roy McDonald had lost the September 13 Republican primary for reelection, the upstate Saratoga-Rensselaer County incumbent announced he would not pursue an Independence Party bid in the November election.

McDonald was one of four Senate Republicans who voted for marriage equality in 2011, and his primary opponent, Kathleen Marchione, the Saratoga County Clerk, was harsh in her attacks on him, saying he “turned his back” on his “promise” to “defend traditional marriage.” At a debate, however, she insisted her challenge was motivated as well by the incumbent’s vote last year that extended a tax surcharge on New Yorkers making more than $1 million a year.

In a September 27 statement, McDonald, noting he had discussed the issue with “family, friends, campaign staff, and trusted advisers,” spent considerable space in a three-page release praising the work the GOP Senate majority had achieved since early 2011, suggesting his decision was aimed at avoiding a win by Democrat Robin Andrews, a town supervisor from Claverack, in a district long held by Republicans.

The Republicans hold a razor-thin 32-30 majority in the Senate.

At the same time, McDonald thanked Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo “for his outstanding support, and for the great job he’s done for the citizens of New York State. He has my respect and friendship.”

On September 26, the governor offered his endorsement for a third-party run by McDonald.

Although the incumbent outraised Marchione significantly –– roughly $900,000 versus $175,000 –– he came up short by about 100 votes out of 13,500 cast.

Like the other three-pro marriage equality Republicans, McDonald benefited from a huge fundraising effort among LGBT donors and their allies.

Citing party “unity,” Rochester area Republican Jim Alesi, another of the four pro-equality votes, bowed out of his reelection effort earlier this year after Assemblyman Sean Hanna, a gay marriage opponent, signaled he was prepared to mount a primary challenge.

In the Buffalo area, freshman Senator Mark Grisanti easily dispatched a primary challenger, but Stephen Saland, a 22-year Senate veteran, narrowly survived a primary challenge in the Lower Hudson Valley, besting his opponent by only 107 votes out of roughly 10,000 cast.

Cuomo, in an interview with Gay City News last summer, credited Saland, in particular, for his critical role in getting the marriage equality law enacted.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which fights marriage equality and other gay and lesbian partnership advances nationwide, crowed about the defeat of McDonald, the withdrawal of Alesi, and also the primary defeat of Democrat Shirley Huntley in Queens, who was challenged by City Councilman James Sanders, who opposes marriage equality. Huntley, however, was hobbled by her recent arrest on state corruption charges.

NOM’s press release made no reference to either Saland or Grisanti, even as it vowed, “we’re going to finish the job” of defeating “six turncoat senators.” It was unclear from the release precisely which senators were on that list.

Marriage equality advocates have emphasized that two of the three Republicans challenged won, and Evan Wolfson, who heads Freedom to Marry, a nationwide group, told Gay City News that “anti-incumbent sentiment” in “very low turnout primaries” played a key role in McDonald’s defeat and the scare visited on Saland.

After McDonald announced his decision, Lynn A. Faria, the interim executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, released a statement lauding him as “a man of principle who made the humble decision to step aside in the interest of his party. We respect that decision. However, it’s unfortunate that such a small, extreme faction of the electorate was able to steer the future of the district. New York State has lost a valuable public servant as a result. We remain resolute in our belief that the tide of equality cannot be turned back.”

Gregory T. Angelo, chair of the New York State Log Cabin Republicans, released a statement saying, “While we are disappointed that Senator McDonald has decided not to actively campaign this fall –– especially in light of recent polling that suggested he would win in the general election –– we understand that this was not an easy decision for the senator, nor was it one that was reached without a great deal of thought and deliberation. As such, we can only respect his choice and support his desire to ensure that the Senate Chamber remains in Republican control.”