Queens State Senator Becomes Latest Democrat to Join Breakaway GOP-Aligned Faction

Queens State Senator Jose Peralta.

Queens State Senator Jose Peralta. Will Bredderman/Observer

Queens State Senator Jose Peralta today joined the renegade Independent Democratic Conference, which enjoys  a power-sharing agreement with the State Senate Republican caucus—making him the third Democrat to join the since November, the third minority member to join the predominantly white faction and the IDC’s eighth member overall.

Peralta joins Brooklyn State Senator Jesse Hamilton, who announced that he was joining the IDC just prior to Election Day last November—and became the first nonwhite member since the IDC expelled the disgraced Malcolm Smith following his arrest in 2013. Shortly afterward, Uppoer  Manhattan State Senator Marisol Alcantara committed to joining the IDC, making her its first Hispanic member.

The Queens pol, a longtime supporter of stalled measures like the DREAM Act—which would grand state tuition assistance to undocumented students—claimed it was merely a matter of pragmatism.

“Today’s political climate demands that progressive legislators take bold action to deliver for their constituents. That’s why I’ve decided to join the Independent Democratic Conference, where I can best affect progressive change on issues like affordable housing, higher education, school funding equity, homelessness reforms, economic development, infrastructure upgrades, affordable healthcare, senior citizen protections and so much more,” he said, touting the breakaway group’s success at passing some liberal measures despite GOP dominance. “The IDC’s track record on delivering for the most vulnerable New Yorkers is irrefutable.”

Bronx State Senator Jeffrey Klein heads the splinter cell, and its other members include Staten Island State Senator Diane Savino, Queens State Senator Tony Avella—now challenging Mayor Bill de Blasio in the Democratic primary—Rockland County State Senator David Carlucci and Syracuse State Senator David Valesky.

Established in 2010, the IDC struck a deal in 2012 with the then-minority State Senate Republicans that allowed them to jointly run the body. After the GOP recouped a numerical majority in the 2014 elections, they revised the agreement—enabling Bronx State Senator Jeffrey Klein, who heads the ODC, to keep his title of “co-leader” but stripping him of much of his authority over legislation and the chamber’s internal operations.

After Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder—a nominal Democrat not connected to the IDC—indicated he would sit with the Republicans for the fourth year since his election in 2012, the IDC declared it would maintain its arrangement with the GOP.

Klein greeted Peralta’s defection with glee.

“Senator Peralta embodies the spirit of this conference’s drive to get real results for the people of New York. As a Democrat, Senator Peralta knows that at this moment in time it’s critical to join the IDC, not just sit on the sidelines, in order to bring about progressive change,” the Senate co-leader said in a statement. “As the IDC grows again, this is another validation of our track record of getting things done.”

The Senate Democratic Conference on the other hand,  now down to just 23 members, did not appear to be thrilled with having lost another seat to the IDC.

“It’s mind boggling that while on the national level Democrats are gearing up to resist the Trump administration and its attempts to move the country backwards we have Democrats here in New York propping up an artificial Republican majority,” Mike Murphy, communications director for the conference, said in a statement. “We need elected leaders that will put people ahead of personal gain.”

The State Senate Democratic Conference, liberal groups and even national Democrats have urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to use his political clout to pressure the rogue Democrats to realign with their own party, but Cuomo has refused. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams—a staunch ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio—and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.—a friend to Cuomo—also clashed recently over who is to blame for GOP dominance in the Senate.

Bill Lipton, New York State director of the Working Families Party, sounded a negative note over the announcement as well. But even he showed deference to the IDC’s swelling influence, saying his party “respects” the group—which the WFP has often lashed out at in the past—but “could not disagree more with their decision to caucus with Republicans.”

He pointed out that as President Donald Trump is set to announce executive action against Muslims and immigrants, on top of other executive actions restricting women’s reproductive rights and the plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the way to stand up to Trump “cannot be to empower Republicans in the State Senate whose goals are aligned with the Trump regime.”

“The governor has consistently failed to unite his own party against Trump Republicans and to fully support those fighting for a progressive majority in the State Senate,” Lipton said in a statement. “New York’s working families will continue to pay the price for this lack of leadership.”

A spokesman for Cuomo lashed out at the WFP, blaming the labor-backed party for pulling politicians away from traditional Democratic loyalties.

“The Working Families Party is the one that started the exodus from the Democratic Party,” said Dani Lever. “If they want to unite the Democrats, they should lead by example and rejoin the party, because otherwise it’s all hypocrisy.”

Cuomo has sought and received the WFP endorsement and ballot line in both his 2010 and 2014 election campaigns.

Queens State Senator Becomes Latest Democrat to Join Breakaway GOP-Aligned Faction