The leader of a group of breakaway Democrats in the New York State Senate appeared to agree to a unity deal proposed by four top state Democratic officials on Monday that urges the senators to reunify with the rest of the party as co-leaders upon winning anticipated special elections.
Since 2011, the Independent Democratic Conference, led by Bronx State Senator Jeff Klein, has been allied with Senate Republicans. The Senate GOP has fewer seats but controls the chamber due to their alliance with the IDC. Additionally, Brooklyn state Sen. Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat who is not in the IDC, has caucused with the GOP since he was elected in 2012.
On Monday, Byron Brown, chairman of the New York State Democratic Party; former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, vice chairwoman of the New York State Democratic Party; Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Bronx/Queens), House Democratic Caucus chairman; and Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU and at-large member of the Democratic National Committee, sent a letter to Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Klein. The letter proposes that the two sides pledge to unite to win anticipated post-budget special elections and that Klein and Stewart-Cousins should reunify as co-leaders upon winning.
“The State Party’s assurance that our progressive legislative agenda will be advanced is a victory for the people of New York,” Klein said in a statement. “I look forward to implementing the terms that have been outlined in yesterday’s letter.”
When the deal was first announced, Klein said the IDC was ready to move forward as long as any final agreement was based on the legislative agenda they put forward on May 22, which includes the Reproductive Health Act, the DREAM Act and single-payer health care.
There are two vacant seats in the Bronx and Westchester County. The officials said they expect a post-budget special election to fill those seats and anticipate that Democrats will win the seats if they work together. There would subsequently be 32 Senate Democrats, including the IDC and Felder. If all of them unite, Democrats would have a majority.
The officials said that after listening to both sides, they determined a “reasonable solution” would be uniting to win the special elections and then coming together as co-leaders.
“Both would have the right to attend leaders’ meetings, approve bills that come to the floor, and both would have the right to approve each other’s deputies,” they wrote in the letter. “Both would refrain from participating in primary challenges against incumbent senators. Both would work together and coordinate resources to mount effective campaigns and win seats in the upcoming general election.”
They said that the two sides can figure out secondary issues such as titles, committee heads and chairmanships through discussions and “mutual agreement.”
On Monday, Stewart-Cousins said her conference has been urging all senators elected as Democrats to work together “and not empower the Republican minority.”
“We continue to stand firmly in that posture as we seek a coalition under similar terms as have existed between the IDC and Senate Republicans, and are willing to enter a coalition consistent with the recent correspondence from state Democratic party officials,” she said in a statement. “There is too much at stake for New Yorkers to wait any longer for their wishes to be fulfilled.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been accused of not doing enough to bring the IDC members back into the Democratic fold, said on Tuesday that he “strongly” supports the unity deal.
After the election of President Donald Trump, an anti-IDC grassroots movement rose, including groups such as No IDC New York, Rise and Resist and True Blue New York. Anti-IDC activists immediately blasted the deal.
“In other words: Klein and the IDC get rewarded for screwing over the people of New York, Cuomo gets to look like the hero, Felder gets more of people fighting over him, and Andrea Stewart-Cousins STILL doesn’t get to be the first black woman Senate Majority Leader,” True Blue New York said in a statement earlier this week. “She would have to share that role with Jeff ‘I’m taking my marbles and going home’ Klein.”
Activist and Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, who ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014 and for Congress last year, was skeptical of the agreement.
“Remember that promise that ‘the IDC will come home’ from May 2014, Andrew Cuomo?,” Teachout said. “Don’t fall for fake future reunification. The IDC and Cuomo are beginning to feel the heat. Let’s keep it going! We can win the real reunification with more pressure.”
In a statement, Felder said that he will prioritize his constituents’ concerns.
“God bless them… Sen. Jeff Klein, the IDC, and the Democrats’ members have spent the last six years talking about making a deal,” he said. “So far, nothing has happened and nothing has changed, so I will not speculate on speculations. As I’ve always said, I only do whatever is in the best interests of my constituents. That’s what I’m focused on, not all this inside political baseball.”