Mayor Feld Weighing Run Against Senator Oppenheimer

by Judy Silberstein

(May 1, 2008) Larchmont Mayor Liz Feld, 47, a Republican, confirmed that she is “seriously considering” a run for the New York State Senate against Suzi Oppenheimer, 73, a Democrat, who is seeking a 13th term.

The news did not appear to faze the senator, a Democrat who has held the office since 1984. “I’m delighted to have an opponent,” said Ms. Oppenheimer, 73. “It gives me an opportunity to talk about the work I do and my accomplishments.

Liz Feld is considering a run for NY Senate.

Suzi Oppenheimer will seek a 13thSenate term.

“It’s no secret that Albany is terribly broken, not just dysfunctional,” Ms. Feld told the Gazette, explaining her potential interest in the Senate. “It’s completely broken and it’s impacting all the municipalities, like Larchmont, and the school districts.” Asked for specifics, she reeled off: " unfunded mandates, wasteful spending, lack of an open process, port barrel projects and the list goes on and on…”

The Numbers Game

Should Mayor Feld opt into the race, she faces odds stacked against a Republican challenger. District 37 “had always been Republican” when she first ran, noted Ms. Oppenheimer, the former mayor of Mamaroneck Village, but it “has gotten progressively more Democratic in registration.” According to the Westchester County Board of Elections Registration, District 37 now has 75,921 Democrats, 45,202 Republicans, and 42,790 unaffiliated voters out of a total of 172,320 voters.

According to Ms. Oppenheimer, the unaffiliated voters in District 37 tilt towards the Democrat’s candidates. In recent elections she has had nominal opposition and won with 60 to 70% of the total vote. Furthermore, “Democrats come out much heavier in presidential years – always,” she said.

Another set of numbers is equally important this year: after being in the majority since 1964, the Senate Republicans now hold 32 seats to the Democrats 30. A loss of one seat would create a tie; another seat would tip the balance and give the Democrats total control of Albany. Governor David Paterson is a Democrat and Democrats hold the Assembly by a lopsided 106 to 42. The dynamics suggest party affiliation might be particularly salient to voters this year.

Despite the unfavorable statistics, the Senate Republicans believe Ms. Feld would be competitive. “If we’re lucky enough to have Liz as our candidate, that becomes a targeted race,” said Matthew Mahoney, executive director of the Republican’s NY State Senate Campaign Committee. “We’ll put money there.”

Ms. Feld downplayed the partisan angle. “My job performance has never been about party labels,” she said. In Larchmont, she was first elected to the Village Board in 2002 with support from the Larchmont Republican Party and with two Republican running mates. However, in 2006, she ran for mayor against the Republican’s choice and on a coalition ticket that included two Democrats. In this year’s election, the same coalition slate was unopposed, with Ms. Feld also appearing on the Republican line and the two Democrats appearing on their party’s line.

Having just gained re-election on March 20, why would Mayor Feld be eyeing Albany now? She said she had been thinking about state government “for a long time” but was motivated to consider a Senate race in response to “this last budget process that transpired in Albany – it was an absolute outrage.” She added, “I want to work where I can make the biggest different - and I don’t know how much good it does to sit in Larchmont and rail about Albany.”

Her comments reflected some ambivalence about a Senate race. “Part of the decision is my family – and I love being the mayor,” said Ms. Feld. “Government works in Larchmont – and it works because we cooperate with all the other levels of government.” That’s a model “I would bring no matter where I go – whether I stay here or I go.”

In other comments, however, Ms. Feld sounded like she was ready to begin a campaign. “Every mayor hits a wall, it’s awfully tough,” she said. “It’s not just reform – the system needs to be blown up.” She mentioned her administration’s record: “the public-private partnership, getting our share of tax dollars back from Albany and Westchester – and all the things I ran on twice – and I’ve delivered.“

In response to a question about running against Senator Oppenheimer, she said. “I’m running for something – and that’s for change. And you can’t change the game, if you don’t change the players.“

But Ms. Oppenheimer also speaks passionately about change – the change that she believes is about to occur. “Many people believe we will take the majority in the Senate in 2008,” she said. For her, that would mean a promotion to chair of the Senate Education Committee and opportunities to pass legislation long blocked by the Republicans, such as a “bigger, better bottle bill” and a variety of reforms. “I’ve been in the forefront of reform ever since being the president of the League of Women Voters,” she said, referring to the position she held prior to becoming mayor of Mamaroneck Village in 1977. Under the Republicans, “ethics reform, campaign reform are not permitted to come to the Senate floor” she said.

And What About Larchmont?

Should Ms. Feld run for the Senate and win, New York State’s Consolidated Laws for Villages calls for the four trustees remaining on the Village Board to select someone to serve as mayor until the next election, in March of 2009. If one of the trustees is chosen as mayor, then the new mayor would appoint a replacement trustee.

The mayor, however, “hasn’t gotten that far.” Before considering a successor, “I’ve got some thinking to do,” she said.

Contacted for an update on Thursday, May 1, Ms. Feld said she was still discussing the race with her family.