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Senate power balance rests with tiny breakaway faction

Posted by Karen DeWitt on

Whichever party wins control of the state Senate on November 8th,  they will likely have to govern along with a breakaway faction of Democrats who have been key to the power structure for several years now.

On the day of Governor Cuomo’s first State of the State speech, back in January 2011, Senator Jeff Klein,  a former deputy Democratic Leader, announced the formation of the Independent Democratic Conference, along with three  other Senators. They would be separate from the Democrats, who had just lost power back to the Republicans after a disastrous two-year run that included a coup in the Senate. Klein said at the time that they would be independent from the GOP Senators, as well, but pledged to work closely with the Republicans, “in a bipartisan fashion”.

“I think the most important thing we can do as elected officials is win back the voter’s trust,” Klein said at the time.

The Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, instantly became the key power brokers of a nearly evenly divided Senate. When Republicans failed to win the 32 seats required to keep the majority outright in the 2012 elections, and the Democrats won 33 seats, the IDC did not join with the other Democrats, but instead entered into a power sharing arrangement with the GOP that kept the regular Democrats in the minority for another two years.  The move embittered many rank and file Democrats, who have since had a tense relationship with the IDC.  

Governor Cuomo, who has been friendly with the IDC all along, is now urging the two factions to mend their rift. Cuomo told a Senate Democratic Campaign Committee fundraiser in late October that he “knows” the IDC is now open to a coalition with the rest of the Democrats, likening it to a “marriage” with “compromises”.

“I believe the IDC will want to make a coalition,” said Cuomo. “The Senate Democrats are going to have to be flexible. Otherwise, they could go with the Republicans.”

The Senate’s Democratic Leader, Andrea Stewart Cousins, says the regular Democrats are ready to make that commitment. 

“Senator Klein and I continue to talk, and we understand, I think, that we work better together,” said Stewart Cousins. “And I think anything that we do will be a partnership.”

In 2014, Senator Klein said that if the Democrats won the majority of seats in the elections, then the IDC would switch sides and partner with the regular Democrats in a power sharing coalition. Not enough Democrats won, and the IDC remained independent. After next Tuesday, the IDC will be stronger than ever, and is likely to have six members in the breakaway faction.   Klein isn’t saying what he’ll do this year, and his office did not respond to requests for interviews.

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