By Sabina Mollot
Last week, Democrat leaders in Albany laid out their hopes for a reunified Democrat body in the Senate, which is currently made up of Democrats, Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference, eight breakaway Democrats who are aligned with Republicans. The IDC members were warned that if they didn’t start playing nice with their own party that the mainline Democrats would actively support their opponents in upcoming primaries. The warning came by way of a letter from the party that was sent to mainline Democrats as well as IDC members.
Because the State Senate is the legislative body chamber where tenant-friendly legislation goes only to flatline, Town & Village turned to TenantsPAC spokesperson and treasurer Mike McKee to ask what this attempt at a deal means for New York City’s renters.
According to him, it does have some impact despite no deal being hammered out yet.
“It’s fallen apart as it should,” said McKee. The deal would have allowed the mainline Democrats and the IDC to keep their chairs (Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Jeff Klein, respectively) as co-chairs to more effectively pass a progressive agenda. In response, the IDC said it would want to make sure progressive issues important to its own members were passed.
But McKee, who’s blasted Klein as a tool of the landlords, noted that none of the issues the IDC mentioned were rent regulations. He also said any deal that allowed Klein to retain power would be terrible. “We’ll never get any tenant bill on the floor. He gets a huge amount of landlord money. Unbelievable.”
Still, McKee said he felt energized by the fact that Democrats are calling out the IDC and said he believes Klein should be nervous about upcoming primaries involving three of his allies.
“He is under an enormous amount of pressure,” McKee said, noting that while Republicans have a majority due to the IDC, in recent years the Democrat to Republican ratio has been consistently close. “There is high pressure on the IDC. These guys are tired of having protests outside their offices every week.”
McKee added that he was “encouraged by the activism we’re seeing,” although he was also referring to pushes for more progressive politics that have been going on since the election of President Trump. Based on this, he said he is optimistic about next November even in Albany.
The tenant leader also noted much of the blame for the IDC’s formation in 2011 should fall on Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been criticized for not doing enough to help his own party regain control.
“Governor Cuomo engineered the whole thing,” McKee said. “He doesn’t want a Democrat-controlled Senate. He doesn’t want a tax and spend Senate, which is what they’re always accusing Democrats of. Cuomo’s whole shtick is fiscal conservative, social progressive.”
It has been reported that Cuomo doesn’t plan to call an election for two vacant Democrat Senate seats until after the budget is done, as well as a few Assembly seats, which allows the Republicans to stay in power even longer.
The current makeup of the Senate is 21 Democrats, two vacant seats previously held by Democrats that are expected to be filled by Democrats (which would bring the total to 23), eight IDC members, Simcha Felder who’s a Democrat in name only though he’s not with the IDC, and 31 Republicans. (To get a majority a side needs 32 votes.)
Meanwhile, according to State Senator Brad Hoylman, the unification proposal hasn’t fallen apart although it is still very much up in the air. He added that while he understands McKee’s distrust of the IDC, in his view, it would be the only way to regain a Democratic majority prior to the elections.
“I think it was a first step toward reconciliation between the two conferences,” he said. “When it comes I think is an open question as are other factors like the timing of the special election for two previously held Democrat seats. And then there’s the final question of Senator Felder who’s been in coalition with the Republicans as well as the details of how such an arrangement might work to coexisting conferences.”
Hoylman added that he understands McKee’s feelings about Klein as well as similar views held by “other groups,” and is “weighing them very seriously.” Still, he put it this way.
Without the IDC’s cooperation, “The map is impossible. I support Andrea Stewart-Cousins and the bottom line is we want the Senate to be in Democrat hands before the election and the only way it’s going to happen is with the IDC working with the mainline Democrats and Simcha Felder. So in the short term the IDC is absolutely necessary to Democrat majority. In the longer term it depends how the election turns out in 2018.”
McKee said he doesn’t expect there will be any risk to Democrats losing the two vacant seats and said both likely winners have said they wouldn’t join the IDC.
As to the primaries for the occupied seats, Hoylman said he is hopeful voters will choose Democrats for the same reason there’s been more activism in 2017 – issues on the national forefront and Trump. However, he also isn’t betting on voters switching sides from IDC incumbents to other Democrat opponents on the ballot, either.
“Incumbency is extremely potent,” said Hoylman. “I don’t pretend to know the politics of other senators’ districts, but I do know incumbents win reelection at a rate of 93 percent.”
This is only likely to change if voters demand change, and, Hoylman added, that could happen.
“Groups like Indivisible, Rise and Resist and Move On have been taking to the streets because of Donald Trump’s presidency who want progressive policies for immigration and people of color and different religions and LGBT,” he said. “This is the direction we want our nation to go. I think these issues are much bigger than the State Senate and in 2018 it’s going to be a wave election, so even with the rate of incumbency so high this could be a different year.”
Hoylman said he thought the tenant movement could also be a part of this since progressive grassroots organizations have “successfully tacked on” a number of issues to their agendas.