A faction of renegade Democrats in the New York state Senate vowed to return to the Democratic fold Wednesday, a move that would end its partnership with Republicans and potentially hand control of the Senate back to Democrats.
Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the four-member Independent Democratic Conference, said his breakaway faction will work to form a new majority with traditional Democrats after the fall elections.
“All IDC members are united and agree to work together to form a new majority coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Democratic Conference after the November elections in order to deliver the results that working families across this state still need and deserve,” the Bronx lawmaker said in his announcement.
Klein’s faction has come under increasing pressure from mainline Democrats who accuse it of empowering Republicans at the expense of liberal priorities. Last month, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised to work to return control of the Senate to Democrats in exchange for the endorsement of the liberal Working Families Party. Since then, Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have been in talks with the independent Democrats designed to end their self-imposed exile — or risk primary election challenges from other Democrats.
With the state Assembly already under firm Democratic control, a change of power in the Senate would greatly improve the prospects for liberal priorities including proposals to raise the minimum wage, create a public campaign finance system, codify abortion rights and extend financial aid to students in the country illegally. But it would also mean an end to an unusual Senate coalition that helped Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo pass business-friendly tax policies.
“I applaud the IDC’s decision,” Cuomo said in a statement accompanying Klein’s announcement. “There is no doubt that we have accomplished much for the state over the past four years. ...There is also no doubt there are progressive goals that we have yet to achieve and that we must accomplish next January.”
The Senate’s Republican leader, Dean Skelos, of Long Island, said Democratic Senate control would lead to higher taxes and government dysfunction. He dismissed the IDC’s move to the Democrats as a “short-term political deal designed to make threatened primaries go away.”
“When primary season is over, I’m confident that cooler heads will prevail,” he said. “And make no mistake that once the dust settles from this election, Republicans will have a full majority.”
Organized labor and liberal groups cheered Klein’s announcement.
“From public financing and the full women’s equality agenda to the DREAM Act and raising the minimum wage, we now have a tidal wave of momentum to finally pass these critical pieces of legislation,” said Bill Lipton, state director for the Working Families Party.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, was more modest in her response, saying that Democratic unity would help “achieve the progressive agenda that New Yorkers demand, and we look forward to working with any senators that share those values.”
The details of the IDC’s proposed return to the Democrats were unclear Wednesday. Klein’s announcement suggests he would seek co-equal status to Stewart-Cousins, a power-sharing relationship he held with Skelos. Several Democrats, however, have said that is a decision that would have to wait until after the elections.