By Sabina Mollot
Nearly a decade ago, Democrats won the State Senate, but their victory was short-lived, thanks to a coup orchestrated by a pair of renegades. When the party next regained power in numbers, this too was brief thanks to a power-sharing arrangement that was brokered between eight breakaway Democrats and Republicans.
But this time it will be different, State Senator Brad Hoylman is saying, due to some unexpected wins last Tuesday that gave Democrats too large of a lead to even try to play behind-the-scenes games with.
“We now have a 16-seat majority,” said Hoylman, “which is extraordinary and provides Democrats with a level of comfort going into vote. A 16-seat majority is a safeguard against Albany’s funny stuff. While there might be some disagreement in our conference, we are a united conference.”
The results of the election paved way for 16 new senators. Six of those senators had defeated candidates during the primary who were formerly members of the breakaway Democrat group known as the Independent Democratic Conference. The new crop of elected officials is also a more diverse bunch: the capitol now has its first Taiwanese-American lawmaker, its first Salvadorian-American, its first Indian-American, its first Colombian-American and its largest number yet of Latinos and women to serve. The Senate’s new majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, is the first woman to hold the position, effectively ending the three-men-in-a-room tradition of lawmaking.
The newness of it all reminded Hoylman of the scene in the 1972 film “The Candidate,” in which Robert Redford’s character runs for Senate and wins, only to turn to his campaign manager and say, “What do we do now?”
Hoylman, meanwhile, faced no opponent for his seat representing the solidly Democratic 27th District of Manhattan. It was upstate and in Long Island where races were far more competitive. Hoylman gave an example of Long Island’s Kevin Thomas, the State Senate’s first South Asian member, who was not expected to beat incumbent Republican Kemp Hannon.
“In a way this benefited (Thomas) because he was able to sneak up and defeat Hannon without Republicans pouring millions into that race,” Hoylman said. “I’m surprised that in Long Island, six out of eight seats are now Democratic. It’s now a Democratic stronghold.”
When the legislative session in Albany starts on January 9, Hoylman said he plans to push for increased LGBTQ rights, such as making sure transgender New Yorkers are covered by the Hate Crimes Law, gun restrictions such as his bill that would bar people with protection orders against them from acquiring guns, his Child Victims Act, aimed at making it easier for sex abuse survivors to file claims, and strengthened rent regulations. Other efforts will include voting reform, such as automatic registration and allowing early voting, codifying women’s right to abortion through the Women’s Reproductive Health Act, ethics reform, including limiting outside income for legislators, and policy aimed at fighting climate change.
Locally, Hoylman said he is focused on getting funding for the subway system, through congestion pricing and other revenue sources.
Still, Hoylman said advocates for the aforementioned issues, including tenant advocates, should continue to show up in Albany and make their voices heard now that there will be a more sympathetic audience.
Asked if that might be akin to preaching to the choir at this point, Hoylman said, “I hope so, but the choir’s got to pass these bills to end luxury decontrol, make MCIs (major capital improvement rent increases) fair and close the LLC Loophole that allows real estate investors to make endless contributions to Senate candidates.”
He added, “The devil is in the details, so their voices are going to be more crucial than ever.” However, unlike TenantsPAC spokesperson Michael, McKee who believes Governor Andrew Cuomo will be working behind the scenes to fight tenant-friendly laws, Hoylman is more optimistic.
“The legislative and executive relationship is sometimes fraught with intrigue but the good news is we’re all the same party,” he said.