Democrats Still Hope To Rule NY State Senate

May 3, 2017

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Credit Mike Groll / AP Photo

Democrats in the state Senate remain hopeful that they will regain the numerical majority and control of the chamber after a special election is held later this month.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo dampened those expectations, in remarks made Wednesday in New York City.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she expects the seat of former Sen. Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat who won a City Council post, to be filled by another mainstream Democrat when a special election is held on May 23. She predicted that after that, Democrats will once again hold the numerical majority of 32 seats in the Senate.

“On May 23, we’ll be at 32. We should be blue,” said Stewart-Cousins. “Democrats should be working together.” 

But in the Senate, it’s far more complicated than that.

One of the Democrats, Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, caucuses with the GOP, giving the Republicans the 32-member edge to retain power. And then there’s the breakaway Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference, whose numbers have now swelled to eight. The IDC is in an informal ruling coalition with the Republicans. 

Cuomo, who last fall hinted that perhaps all 32 of the Democrats should reunite, has lately said he likes things the way they are. Speaking to reporters in Long Island City, Cuomo said the Democrats have held the Senate in the past, and it didn’t work out very well.

“It wasn’t extraordinarily successful,” Cuomo said. “So I work with the Assembly and the Senate that I’ve been given. And I do the best I can.”

The Democrats took charge in 2009 and 2010, but there was a lot of infighting, even a Senate coup, and three of the leaders were arrested and charged with crimes. All are either serving or face jail time.

Democrats say they’ve changed. 

The bad apples from nearly a decade ago are no longer in the Senate. A spokesman for Senate Democrats said the state is missing a chance to be a “progressive beacon to the rest of the nation” in what he called the “dangerous” age of President Donald Trump. 

Spokesman Mike Murphy also pointed out that New York is only one of seven states in the nation that could potentially have a Democratic governor, Assembly and Senate.

Cuomo did not come out and say he sides with Republicans, though he has appeared in some post-budget victory lap events with the leader of the Senate GOP.

“Well, I am a Democrat, so I support Democrats,” Cuomo said.

Meanwhile, the Independent Democratic Conference is walking a fine line, partnering with the Republicans on some things like the massive state budget, and voting against some GOP objectives. For instance, the IDC members voted along with mainstream Democrats for a bill to force Trump to release his tax returns, something a Senate Republican spokesman called a “PR stunt.”

Recently, the IDC leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, and the other conference members were joined by heads of the major public workers labor unions to promote bills to make it easier to join a union. “I can’t think of any better way to spend May 1, May Day, with my friends in organized labor,” Klein said Monday.

Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan, who needs the goodwill of the IDC to help keep the majority, didn’t completely close the door on that proposal, but he didn’t encourage it, either.

“I don’t know the exact details,” Flanagan said. “We did a lot of things for labor and business in the budget.”Flanagan said the budget includes a provision to allow union members to deduct their dues from their state income taxes. But the Senate leader said he is “willing to have discussions” on the bills.

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