ALBANY – The retirement announcement Thursday by state Sen. William Larkin, 90-year-old World War II combat veteran, puts at five the number of Senate Republicans who have said they will not seek re-election this fall at a time when Democrats are in play to take control of the 63-member chamber.
But the five Senate Republicans who represent areas of Western New York from Lake Ontario in the north to the Pennsylvania line in the south told The Buffalo News they will seek re-election this year.
The retirement announcements in the Senate GOP conference, desperately trying to maintain control of its only power position in Albany, started coming after Democrats, as expected, won special elections held last week to fill two vacant downstate seats.
Leaving the Senate, so far, are GOP senators from the Albany area, Long Island, the Syracuse area and two from the Mid-Hudson Valley.
Larkin, an Orange County lawmaker, came to the Assembly in 1979 and joined the Senate in 1991. He served in the Pacific campaign during World War II, and, while in the Army, was in charge of security for Martin Luther King’s 1965 Civil Rights march from Selma. He retired as a lieutenant colonel.
“My glory days were 23 years in the military,’’ Larkin said in a Buffalo News profile of his 2016 re-election battle that was expensive and hard-fought even as the senator had to pause from active campaigning because of health issues. The senator has been using a wheelchair around the Capitol for several years due at least in part to foot problems caused by frostbite during the Korean War. Larkin is West Point’s senator and biggest cheerleader, hosting a visit by cadets and officials from the college each year.
“To be clear, my decision has nothing to do with some mythical blue wave that state Democrats have been wishing for. No, after serving this great country in WWII and Korea, and doing battle with a long line of Democratic challengers here at home, my final battle is with Father Time,’’ Larkin said Thursday.
Earlier this week, five GOP senators from Western New York – Patrick Gallivan, Chris Jacobs, Robert Ortt, Michael Ranzenhofer and Catharine Young – all said yes when asked if they were running this fall.
Larkin’s announcement came a day after Sen. Tom Croci, a Suffolk County Republican, said he is returning to active duty in the Navy and won’t seek re-election. There has been some speculation about whether Croci will remain in the Senate until the end of session on June 20. If he departs, that would give the mainline Democrats 31 seats and Republican conference 31 seats; the GOP conference includes on Democrat, Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who is under pressure to bolt the GOP and join the Democrats to give them a clear majority going into the end of session.
Republicans are putting forward a confident face about the recent retirement announcements.
“Each of these districts have been represented by Republicans for years, if not decades. We expect to field excellent candidates who will help us maintain our majority,’’ said Scott Reif, a Senate GOP spokesman.
Noting that Democrats would have one seat from Western New York if the Democrats gain control, Reif added: “The last thing anyone wants is there to be no checks and balances and no accountability in Albany, and the New York City Democrats calling all the shots. If that happens, Buffalo and Western New York get nothing.”
Democrats say the retirement trend is significant.
“I think clearly the GOP is seeing the writing on the wall. They understand that their majority is crumbling,’’ said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, who recently saw a breakaway group of eight senators re-join the mainline group of Democrats.