As Democratic State Senate candidates rode toward their doom last year—or rode into the ranks of the Republican-aligned Independent Democratic Conference—the man in charge of filling their collective warchest raked in almost $275,000 for his own, as-yet undeclared statewide run.
Queens State Senator Michael Gianaris, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, socked away $88,806 into his “New Yorkers for Gianaris” committee during the last six months of 2016, according to the latest financial disclosure—on top of $185,678 raised in the first half of the year, bringing the balance of the account to nearly $1.95 million. The cumulative records show he paid nearly $38,000 to fundraiser Annie Weir, a veteran of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and former Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s 2013 mayoral bid.
New Yorkers for Gianaris is believed to be a rainy day fund should New York suddenly find itself lacking an attorney general. Gianaris initially opened the account to pursue that job a decade ago, but found himself boxed out by now-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Some have speculated that current top prosecutor Eric Schneiderman might run for governor should Cuomo not seek re-election in 2018.
In November, Gianaris’s conference failed to recover upstate districts Republicans captured in 2014, dropped a Buffalo-area seat to the GOP and saw a Democratic bastion in Upper Manhattan fall to Marisol Alcantara, who had pledged allegiance to the IDC. Their single pickup occurred in Nassau County, where now-State Senator John Brooks defeated incumbent Michael Venditto by 41 votes, just weeks after a federal corruption dragnet snatched up the Republican’s father, former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto.
The bust threw sand in the gears of the once-vaunted Nassau GOP machine, but local Republican State Senator Carl Marcellino withstood a tough challenge from Democrat James Gaughran by a mere 1,534-ballot margin.
Defeating Marcellino would have meant 33 registered Democrats in the upper chamber of the State Legislature, one more than needed for a majority. That single-seat hedge could have proved crucial, as Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder—a nominal Democrat—has caucused with the Republicans since his election in 2012, and has announced his intention to do so again this session, granting the GOP a one-seat advantage.
The IDC has used Felder’s decision as justification for continuing the power-sharing accord they first forged with the State Senate Republicans back in 2012. Members of the breakaway conference have asserted this arrangement has enabled the passage of liberal legislation like the minimum wage increase and paid family leave in spite of GOP dominance in the chamber.
In 2014, the splinter faction of Democrats promised to form a coalition government with the larger caucus Gianaris belongs to should their party regain control of the State Senate. But in recent months, the IDC’s numbers have swelled at the mainline Dems’ expense.
Besides Alcantara, Brooklyn State Senator Jesse Hamilton swore himself to the IDC just before Election Day last year. Then, this past week, Queens State Senator Jose Peralta announced his own defection to the renegade sect.
“Joining the IDC will allow me to not only speak about, but deliver on a progressive agenda for all New Yorkers,” Peralta said at the time.
The IDC now stands at eight members, while the larger Democratic conference comprises 23. The two camps spent much of the past month in an increasingly acrimonious public relations war, as the mainstream Dems accused their former fellows of empowering the party of President Donald Trump.
In a phone interview with the Observer, Gianaris denied that fundraising for his statewide account in any way distracted or detracted from his job of amassing cash for the DSCC. He pointed to the organization’s $3.8 million haul last year, which included more money from his personal State Senate campaign account than from any of his peers’.
“The DSCC raised more money than at any time since the Democrats were in power in the Senate,” he said. “We netted a seat in what was a disastrous year for Democrats across the country.”
The current balance of the DSCC’s campaign account is $19,801.