By Sabina Mollot
With sexual misconduct allegations having been made last week against Jeff Klein, the Bronx state senator who controls the Independent Democratic Conference, the proposal to reunite the Senate mainline Democrats with the IDC is likely to continue to stall.
Political watchdog Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC, said he suspects that “Jeff’s days may be numbered.” While not exactly unbiased — McKee rarely misses a chance to call Klein a landlord puppet — the veteran Albany activist put it this way: “I think this puts a monkey wrench into Governor Cuomo’s plan to reunify the Senate, which was very flawed to begin with.” But, he added that he doesn’t believe the plan was going anywhere anyway.
Under the proposed deal put forth last fall, the IDC, a breakaway group of eight Democrat senators who vote with Republicans, would share power with Democrats with each chamber’s chair becoming a co-leader. However, they would also still need Republican-aligned but non-IDC Senator Simcha Felder and two new Democrat senators in two vacant seats formerly occupied by Democrats to actually secure a majority.
The main problem with this, McKee has said, is that Klein and Democrat Committee Chair Andrea Stewart-Cousins would both have the power to veto any legislation before it gets to the floor. “For tenants, Jeff Klein as a co-leader would be a disaster,” McKee said. “He’s a landlord operative.”
Other problems, he said, include the fact that Cuomo has yet to call a special election to fill the two vacant Senate seats, which indicates his disinterest in Democrats getting a majority. Additionally, while a vacant Bronx seat is expected to go to a Democrat with the other vacant seat in Westchester also likely to remain Democrat, the upstate race isn’t a shoo-in.
The Democrats would then need to rein in Felder, who’s very much a wild card. He’s been quoted in Politico saying he’ll align with whoever will help him serve his constituents best. If, however, the Democrats are able to get Felder on their side, they will still only have a majority of one vote with 32, not necessarily enough to guarantee passage of Democrat legislation like stronger rent regulations.
“It takes 32 votes to do anything in Albany,” said McKee. “All you need is one renegade Democrat senator saying, ‘No you can’t pass that.’ Democrats are not as disciplined as Republicans.”
In McKee’s opinion the only way Democrats can successfully flip the Senate is if “Andrew Cuomo kicks in any real money to help turn the Senate blue.” While Cuomo has helped previously with Democrat donations, McKee said he would need to give significantly more. “The day he writes a $10 million check is the day I take him seriously,” McKee said.
As for the allegations of Klein forcibly kissing a much younger, female staffer outside an Albany bar, Klein has vehemently denied them and has retained a lawyer. He’s ignored calls to step down, while Governor Andrew Cuomo has simply said there should be an investigation.
McKee, meanwhile, called the accusations reflective of Albany culture and culture in general. “Women are treated badly. I’ve been in Albany for 45 years. I’ve seen how women are treated.”