By Sabina Mollot
On Wednesday, June 25, a group of breakaway Democrats in the State Senate, called the Independent Democrats Conference, formed an alliance more mainline Democrats. As a result of this cooperation, which would begin after the November elections, IDC Senator Jeff Klein, if re-elected, would become a “co-leader” along with Senate Minority Leader Andrea-Stewart Cousins, and the IDC’s alliance with Senate Republicans would end. The IDC was formed in 2012.
The move, while cheered by Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, is being seen as potentially disastrous by the real estate industry since it’s expected to put Democrats back in control of the Senate. Additionally, Stewart-Cousins is a tenant-friendly Democrat. At the same time, it’s also being eyed with caution by TenantsPAC, which views Klein as a tool for landlords.
TenantsPAC has been actively campaigning to get Klein’s opponent in the primary, former City Council Member Oliver Koppell, elected instead.
The political action committee has even begun phone banking to get close to 700 registered democrats in The Bronx to support him.
“Tenants anywhere should care about this election,” TenantsPAC treasurer Mike McKee said.
TenantsPAC has also given $4,000 to the campaign, and hopes to give the candidate $2,500 more, which would bring the donation to the maximum allowed.
Of the new Senate Democratic coalition, McKee said, “It makes sense for the real Democrats to do this, but we’re raising a note of caution about a major issue which is coming up in the legislature next year.”
This statement was in reference to the law governing rent regulated housing that will be up for renewal, and Klein, noted McKee, has a history of shooting down pro-tenant legislation.
TenantsPAC actually supported Klein a decade ago, because, “his opponent was worse.” The opponent, Steven Kaufman, had said he would caucus with Republicans. And as for Klein, McKee said, “we didn’t know he would be this bad.”
Over the years since then, McKee has had three meetings with the senator, two in his district office and one in Albany, with constituents present, in an effort to get Klein to support a repeal of vacancy decontrol.
“He told us flat out he would vote on it if it comes up, but ‘I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t get to the floor,’” said McKee. “And it never got to the floor. You have to give him some credit for being so honest and not stringing us along.”
A spokesperson for Klein didn’t respond to T&V’s request for comment.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, meanwhile, said the new cooperation should still make a big difference because, as McKee noted, Democrat legislation doesn’t currently tend to make it to the floor for consideration. This would be legislation on issues such as tenant protections, LGBT rights, the DREAM Act and de-criminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
“Everything has been stymied by Republican control of the Senate,” Hoylman said. “It’s at-will legislation, whatever they want. The leaders of the Senate have tremendous strength.”
For this reason, Hoylman said he wants to see more power given to committees.
“I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a new term in the Senate with new leadership that defies the dysfunctional label some have wanted to paint Democrats with,” he added.
This dysfunction was the reason for the formation of the IDC.Following its creation, out of 63 Senate members in New York, 24 are currently Democrat, five are IDC, 30 are Republican, although, noted Hoylman, “One of the Republicans is a Democrat.” That would be Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who conferences with Republicans “even though he was elected as a Democrat.” Then there are two vacant seats formerly held by Republican Charles Fuschillo of Long Island, who resigned to work for a nonprofit, and Democrat Eric Adams, who’s now the Brooklyn borough president.
There are former Democrats John Sampson (who’s been charged with lying about a liquor store he’s a partner in) and Malcolm Smith (who’s been accused of being involved in a scheme to bribe Republicans) who were “kicked out and floating without a committee,” said Hoylman.
As for the shakeup in leadership, Hoylman called it “a good position for the Democrats to be in, but,” he warned, “it is not a done deal.”
There are after all primaries coming up and “tenants were bitterly disappointed the last time Democrats were in control,” said Hoylman.
This was in 2009, a year that was marred by a coup in which two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, temporarily switched sides. (Both men have since been convicted of crimes, Monserrate of assaulting his girlfriend, and Espada of embezzling from a nonprofit he founded, and are no longer in office.)
As for this year, “Tenant advocates cannot sit on the sidelines,” said Hoylman. “They have to make sure their voices are heard. “This could hopefully do a lot for rent regulated apartments in my district, mainly Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. This could make a big difference but it could also be a lost opportunity.”