NY Senate Power Shift Shakes Up Albany

constitutional convention
The New York State Capitol Building in Albany.

The political landscape in Albany felt a shockwave Wednesday when the breakaway group of Democrats in the New York State Senate known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) announced that it has agreed to end its historic, bipartisan alliance with Republicans and form a new majority with Democrats after this November’s election.

The shift in power comes after intense pressure by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, organized labor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who reportedly met with the leader of the IDC, state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Westchester), behind closed doors on Monday. The apparent winner is the Working Families Party, which endorsed Cuomo at its convention last month after the governor pledged that he would push for the move so the Democrats could regain control of the state Senate—and said that he’d support primary candidates challenging the IDC’s six members if they didn’t come along. The biggest loser is Long Island’s own state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who has been the co-leader of the Senate body with Klein for the last four years. Republicans currently hold 29 of the 63 seats.

“It’s unfortunate that Mayor de Blasio, the radical Working Families Party and their co-conspirators in the Senate Democratic Conference are attempting to take control of the New York State Senate,” Skelos said in a statement, criticizing the agreement as “nothing more than a short-term political deal designed to make threatened primaries go away.”

Taking direct aim at the forces now arrayed against him, Skelos added: “It’s unfortunate that the Governor would cave to the Working Families Party and what they stand for—higher taxes and spending… ”

A spokesman for the Working Families Party took objection to Skelos’ description.

“If Senate Republicans think raising the minimum wage and protecting a women’s right to choose is radical, that just shows how extremist their conference has become,” Austin Shafran, the WFP’s New York legislative director, told the Press.
Klein took the high road in his statement.

“The Independent Democratic Conference has served as a strong, stabilizing, sensible force for governing in New York State for four years,” he said, ticking off legislative accomplishments such as passing four consecutive on-time budgets, new gun control laws, marriage equality, universal pre-k and medical marijuana.

“It is also clear that core Democratic policy initiatives that the IDC championed remain unfinished,” Klein continued. “As Democrats, the IDC remains committed to the fight for an equal education for all New York students, which the DREAM Act would provide, protecting a woman’s right to choose, increasing workers’ wages, and enacting meaningful campaign finance reform. I agree with Governor Cuomo that these are progressive priorities we must pass.”

The governor was most appreciative in his response.

“I applaud the IDC’s decision,” 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.”

Bill Lipton, the ‎Working Families Party state director, said the announcement that IDC will be joining with Senate Democrats “to form a new progressive majority” was “great news” for all New Yorkers.

“We now have a tidal wave of momentum to finally pass these critical pieces of legislation,” Lipton said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Jeff Klein and a new progressive majority next year, and to growing that majority this November.”

Not so fast, countered Skelos, the state Senate’s Republican leader.

“Make no mistake that once the dust settles from this election, Republicans will have a full majority,” he predicted. “Even then, we will continue to work with Democrats to cut taxes, create jobs and move this state forward.”