The Journal News
June 25, 2014
ALBANY – The five-member Independent Democratic Conference announced Wednesday it would seek to share power with Senate Democrats after the November elections, ending the coalition with Republicans that ran the Senate for the past two years.
The move would have broad implications on policy decisions in New York, such as whether to increase the minimum wage, implement public financing of political campaigns and strengthen abortion rights.
Democrats would control all branches of state government when the legislative session resumes in January, if Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democrats win election this fall.
IDC leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, and Cuomo said Wednesday that too many issues important to Democrats have stalled in recent months under the current Senate leadership of Republicans and the IDC.
Klein said he will look to share the Senate presidency with Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers. The arrangement would be similar to the one he’s had with Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, since 2013 – they had to agree on what bills to bring to the floor for a vote.
“We feel these issues are best accomplished with a new coalition between the IDC and the Democratic conference,” Klein, who represents parts of Westchester County, said in an interview with Gannett’s Albany Bureau. “I think the important thing is that the IDC will live on, and the IDC will remain intact.”
There has been speculation for months that the IDC may end its power-sharing deal with Republicans, who are mainly from upstate and Long Island. The IDC has faced extraordinary pressure from unions, the Working Families Party, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Democratic leaders to rejoin with the Democratic conference.
Perhaps the IDC’s fate was sealed when Cuomo on May 31 vowed to work to put the 63-member Senate back in Democratic hands in exchange for the endorsement of the Working Families Party, the small, but influential labor-backed party.
Cuomo has praised his bipartisan working relationship with Republicans, but he has also had pressure from the left to support a more progressive agenda as he faces re-election this fall against Republican Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive.
“I applaud the IDC’s decision. There is no doubt that we have accomplished much for the state over the past four years,” Cuomo said in a statement. “There is also no doubt there are progressive goals that we have yet to achieve and that we must accomplish next January.”
The move by the IDC serves a variety of purposes. IDC members faced Democratic primaries this fall because of their alliance with Republicans. Klein has faced a challenge from former New York City Councilman Oliver Koppell, and Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, was facing a potential primary, too.
Koppell said Wednesday that he’s still planning a primary challenge for the time being, but would soon discuss his political future with supporters and Senate Democrats.
The IDC formed after the 2010 elections, and they joined with Republicans in 2013 – usurping the majority that Democrats won on paper in the 2012 elections.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, praised the IDC’s decision.
“The Senate Democratic Conference has long advocated unity among all Democrats so we can better achieve the progressive agenda that New Yorkers demand, and we look forward to working with any senators that share those values,” she said in a statement.
Wednesday’s announcement was the latest flap in the closely divided Senate, where a few seats separate Democrats and Republicans from the majority. The Assembly is heavily controlled by Democrats.
Republicans lost control of the Senate for the first time in more than 40 years in 2008, but Democrats’ two-year tenure was marred by infighting, scandals and a coup in June 2009 that led to a leadership stalemate for a month.
Republicans regained the majority in 2010, but lost it in 2012 in a presidential election year. The GOP, though, salvaged its influence by joining with the breakaway Democrats.
Skelos dismissed the IDC’s decision and said that Republicans would prevail with a majority in the November election. They would need to hold or flip several Senate seats in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
“In the heat of primaries and elections, people say a lot of things,” Skelos said in a statement. “When primary season is over, I’m confident that cooler heads will prevail. And, make no mistake that once the dust settles from this election, Republicans will have a full majority.”
Republicans had opposed increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour after agreeing last year to increase it to $9 an hour by the end of next year. Republicans, as well as some Democrats, also opposed a bill to strengthen abortion rights and grant tuition aid to illegal immigrants. Republicans were also against using public money to fund political campaigns, a key reform sought by liberals and unions.
The Working Families Party said the IDC’s move would mean a host of their issues will get addressed next year.
“From public financing and the full women’s equality agenda to the DREAM Act and raising the minimum wage, we now have a tidal wave of momentum to finally pass these critical pieces of legislation,” the party said in a statement.
What’s at stake:
Control of the state Senate. A Democratic majority would mean many of the priorities would likely be adopted into law, such as stronger abortion rights, public financing of political campaigns and an increase in the minimum wage.