NY House Members to GOP-Aligned State Senate Dems: ‘Return to the Democratic Conference’

The Independent Democratic Conference and the National Action Network at a press conference. Madina Toure/Observer

All 18 Democrats representing New York State in the House of Representatives signed a letter today demanding that the three clashing factions of their party in the State Senate reunite, so as to make Albany the seventh solid-blue state capital nationwide.

The letter noted that, with the victory of Brian Benjamin in a special election in Harlem on Tuesday, registered Democrats enjoy a one-seat numerical advantage in the upper chamber of the State Legislature. But Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder, who runs on both party lines, has caucused with the Republicans since 2012—while another eight members belonging to the Independent Democratic Conference have a nearly five-year-old power-sharing arrangement with the GOP.

“This numeric majority should mean that Democrats are in control of the State Senate. However, because of Democrats who have broken away from the Democratic conference, the Republicans are enjoying control of it,” the message laments. “This reality is devastating, especially for hard-working New Yorkers because Republicans are intent on advancing President Donald Trump’s agenda.”

The signatories include Queens Congressman Joseph Crowley, Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano, Upper Manhattan Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Albany-area Congressman Paul Tonko, Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Brooklyn Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Buffalo Congressman Brian Higgins, Bronx Congressman Eliot Engel, Westchester Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks, Nassau County Congressman Thomas Suozzi, Hudson Valley Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, Rochester Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Manhattan Congressman Jerrold Nadler and Nassau County Congresswoman Kathleen Rice.

The presence of Espaillat’s signature is especially significant, given that his protege State Senator Marisol Alcantara—who assumed his former seat in Albany in January—is a member of the IDC. Meeks’ former ally, now-jailed State Senator Malcolm Smith, was also briefly a member of the turncoat coterie before his arrest in 2013 led to his expulsion from the group.

“Now is the time for all Democrats to return to the Democratic conference to work collaboratively to benefit all New Yorkers, and fight unitedly against President Trump’s agenda,” the missive concludes. “We look forward to working with you in that fight.”

Felder sent a curious letter to the IDC yesterday, urging them to return to the party fold, while making no promise to do so himself. Meng, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, yesterday joined Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison and Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake in urging Felder and the rival conferences to combine.

Jeffries, Clarke, Nadler and Velazquez have all previously spoken critically of the IDC.

The IDC has long maintained that its pact with the Republicans allows progressive measures—like a fund to provide attorneys to immigrants fighting deportation, and a bill to bar the prosecution of minors as adults in most circumstances—to clear the State Senate. Mainstream Democrats have maintained those measures have been diluted by GOP influence, and blame the IDC-GOP accord for the failure of single-payer healthcare and of the DREAM Act, which would extend state college tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

The breakaway faction has more recently noted that both Felder and a number of conservative-leaning Democrats might not support the DREAM Act should it come to the floor, meaning even a united blue front could not pass it.

“The IDC is proud of its record of achievements and will always work to protect New Yorkers when our federal government fails us,” said spokeswoman Candice Giove. “In order to achieve anything we must unite around policy issues, which is why we’ve asked our Democratic colleagues to pledge their support to seven progressive issues including reproductive health, single-payer health care and the DREAM Act. It’s time to call the roll to find out where Democrats stand on these issues.”

Further, two members of the mainline Democratic conference—Bronx State Senator Ruben Diaz Jr. and Westchester State Senator George Latimer—are seeking local office, which could leave holes in the numerical Democratic majority for as long as their seats remain vacant.

Updated to include comment from Giove.

NY House Members to GOP-Aligned State Senate Dems: ‘Return to the Democratic Conference’