Reunification Of The Senate Democratic Party

A Personal Perspective

The saying that you should “not look a gift horse in the mouth” is often a sage one. But opinion columnists and many others are ignoring that admonition this week.

We can’t just count “our blessings” and shut up this time. Bronx state Sen. Jeff Klein and a group of approximately four others grew weary of being in the Senate minority—the Democratic Party—while their Republican colleagues enjoyed the spoils of their majority status. So, they broke away forming the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and caucused with the Republicans in the Senate.

The group of rogue Democrats eventually grew to eight—including Queens Democrats Tony Avella, who was in from the get-go, and Jose Peralta. By caucusing with the Republicans, the faux Democrats—including Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, who is not a member of the IDC, but also caucuses with the Republicans—kept that party in the majority.

For their disloyalty to the Democratic Caucus, Klein and company were rewarded with more goodies for their districts than their Democratic counterparts, who remained loyal to their caucus. We get it—everyone wants more for their districts. But in politics, people don’t like turncoats.

You can’t use the party to get elected, and then act like you are a member of another party to get what you want. And let’s not get it twisted—it’s not all about their districts. It’s also about egos. The majority party doesn’t just have more goodies to dole out—they also have titles, impressive office spaces and other ego-boosting giveaways.

As the leader of the party in the state, our Democratic governor should have brokered a deal to reunify the party years ago. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to play all sides of the situation to benefit his own ends.

The situation reached critical mass last year when New York Democrats in Washington met with Cuomo in D.C. to encourage him to make it happen. He went through the motions and essentially blamed the Democratic leadership—Andrea Steward-Cousins, the Senate Minority leader and state Sen. Michael Gianaris—for the debacle.

But now that Cuomo has a Democratic challenger in actress Cynthia Nixon, all of a sudden he made it happen.

IDC members were also facing primary challengers, so they too were running scared. They all had something to lose, so it was easier to get them to the table. The governor had a lot to lose. So, there they were on Wednesday afternoon in a press conference, Cuomo sitting between Democratic Caucus Leader Stewart-Cousins, who has wanted this all along, and Klein, announcing that all parties had come to an agreement.

Kudos to U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley for helping to broker the deal. He had tried in the past, but Klein was not ready and Cuomo seemed unwilling to go out of his way on the matter.

But there Cuomo was on Wednesday, looking for all intents and purposes like it was 1979 all over again, and he was Jimmy Carter and the two senators were Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.

Stewart-Cousins and most Democrats have been waiting for this outcome. Now, this “peace accord” still doesn’t put the Dems in the majority. There is still the matter of Felder caucusing with the Republicans—and there are two vacated seats to be filled in a special election later this month.

If Democrats prevail there and Felder abandons his Republican friends, then we will finally have a Democratic majority and Stewart-Cousins becomes the first woman leader of a majority party in the New York State Senate. It will also mean a fairer distribution of the state’s resources.

Finally we will have not “three men in a room,” but two men and a woman. It would also mean that the leaders of both houses—the Senate and Assembly—are led by African Americans. At long last, unity and, perhaps, some history being made.

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