IDC Responds To Felder, Challenges Him On Policy

A day after Sen. Simcha Felder called on Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein to return to the mainline conference fold in the Senate, the eight-member bloc responded a letter sent Thursday, challenging the Brooklyn Democrat on key policy issues.

In the letter obtained by Capital Tonight, the IDC rights that Felder’s “clarion call” for Democrats to unite in the Senate “means nothing” if they don’t line up on the issues.

“At a time when President Trump is declaring a war on women, the LGBT communities and our immigrant communities, it is imperative that we unite around issues that will protect New Yorkers and their rights,” the letter signed by all eight members of the IDC and delivered to Felder’s office.

“You might not support all of these issues, but it is important to know where you stand and where all Democrats stand on a woman’s right to choose, GENDA, single payer health care, contraceptive coverage, family planning funding, campaign finance reform and the DREAM Act.”

The letter dovetails with what the IDC has long asserted in the Senate: Even with a workable Democratic majority of 32 members, the passage of a left-leaning agenda is not a guarantee given the conservative social views of some lawmakers, including Felder and Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat.

Democrats now have 32 enrolled members in the Senate, a numeric majority. But Felder’s membership in the Republican conference gives the GOP a working majority.

Still, the IDC has come under increasing pressure in recent days to return to the mainline conference in order to empower Democrats in the chamber. Left-leaning pressure groups and the Working Families Party have sought to push the IDC back to the fold of regular Democrats, a push that was joined on Wednesday by the Democratic National Committee and Rep. Keith Ellison.

Felder has insisted the “onus” is on Klein return to the Democratic conference and has given no indications he will bolt from the Republican majority.

Felder Letter 5.25 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

IDC Rebuffs Unity Calls (Updated)

The Independent Democratic Conference on Wednesday isn’t interested in going anywhere until there is the ability to take concrete action on key issues for the left such as women’s rights and bolstering the rights of immigrants.

The IDC is rebuffing calls for unity from Democrats and liberal pressure groups to re-join the mainline conference of Democrats in the state Senate — calls that have intensified after the election of Brian Benjamin, who gives Democrats a numerical majority in the chamber.

“Thirty two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump,” said IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove.

Republicans retain power in the Senate with the membership of Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat. Felder on Wednesday raised eyebrows in Albany with a letter that urged IDC Leader Jeff Klein to return to the Democratic fold.

Updated: Senate Republicans released a statement in response to Felder’s call for Klein to join the mainline group of Democrats.

“Senator Felder is a valued and trusted member of our conference, and working together we have been able to accomplish many great things for for the people of his district and all of New York State,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif.

But the IDC has pointed out throughout the week the votes for bills backed by liberals won’t necessarily materialize, even with a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate.

“Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership,” Giove said. “The Independent Democratic Conference has made its positions and its values clear. We are asking every other Senator to do the same. It’s time to call the roll”

Teachers Union Leader To Challenge Southern Tier Rep. Reed

With roughly a year and a half until the mid-term elections, Southern Tier Republican Tom Reed already has a challenger for his congressional set. Corning teacher and coach Rick Gallant launched his campaign Wedneday.

The Democrat also serves on the Board of Directors for New York State United Teachers. Gallant said he will focus on education, jobs and challenging the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“Our Congressman, Tom Reed, is voting in lock step with Donald Trump and his party. He says one thing here at home, but votes another way once he’s in Washington. It’s time for a representative who will deliver more than lip service,” Gallant said.

Gallant has worked in the Corning-Painted Post School District for the past 17 years. Before that he worked as an assistant college basketball coach and a sportswriter and ran a small whitewater rafting business.

Reed has been in office since 2010 and won re-election against Naval Commander John Plumb last year. He was also part of the Trump Transition Team.

“The campaign looks forward to engaging in a fair and spirited debate with our challengers about the issues facing our country,” Reed Campaign Manager Nicholas Weinstein said.  “Our priority remains on continuing our record of caring, conservative leadership, bridging the partisan divide as the co-chair of the Problem Solver Caucus, and remaining accessible with our over two hundred Town Hall meetings.”

Senate Democrats Want A NY Service Corps

Senate Democrats on Tuesday pushed a bill that would create a state service organization as President Donald Trump moves to dismantled the AmeriCorps program.

The bill would form the New York State Service Corps and extend a student loan forgiveness program to those who participate.

“Public service programs encourage investment in communities and incentivize Americans to help their neighbors in need. With Donald Trump proposal to defund the successful AmeriCorps program, we need to take bold action on the state level,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

The measure was proposed by Sen. Daniel Squadron, who chairs the mainline conference’s policy committee.

“Service makes America great, but Donald Trump is threatening our nation’s service program,” Squadron said. “By expanding our state service corps, we can help with student loan debt, while giving young people the chance to serve and learn.”

In New York, the AmeriCorps program has led to the participation of 5,200 people who have performed public service projects and receive grants for tuition loan repayments.

The IDC Cold War Goes Hot Again

From the Morning Memo:

For the last six years, mainline Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate have with varying degrees of intensity waged a cold war for power in Albany.

Put on the back burner last year amid the possibility of Democrats faring well down battle in the presidential election, the fight is back to being a red hot one at the Capitol.

The mainline conference over the last several months has received reinforcements in the form of the labor-aligned Working Families Party, which released on Monday a “resistance” manifesto that urged the IDC to reconcile in order to pass sought-after liberal agenda measures.

Bolstering the argument for this today is the expected win of Democratic Senate candidate Brian Benjamin in a special election to fill a vacant Senate seat. His victory will bring Democrats to 32 enrolled members in the chamber, a majority, but that also includes Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a who sits with the Senate GOP.

“Truly affordable healthcare for all. Worker protections. Real protections for immigrants,” said WFP State Director Bill Lipton. “Criminal justice reform to end mass incarceration, and bringing our voting system into the 21st century. New Yorkers are demanding bold leadership to pass progressive reforms and stand up to President Trump.”

“But these ideas, and so many more, can’t happen until we have a unified, progressive government in Albany. Voters elected a Democratic majority, it’s long past time that we really had one.”

At the same time, the mainline conference has enlisted the support of online activists and liberal journalists to back their message in the press, much to the annoyance of the IDC.

Further poisoning the well in the eyes of the IDC have been calls from the leadership of the mainline conference for an investigation into the arrangement in which vice chairs of committee receive paid stipends normally reserved for committee chairmen, including three conference lawmakers.

Nevertheless, the push back against the six-year-old bloc led by Bronx Democrat Jeff Klein belies what has been growing success at the beginning of the year for conference, which now stands at eight members.

Amid calls for passing the progressive agenda that ranges from protections for health care, abortion rights and the public financing of campaigns, Klein and company reiterated on Monday votes should be indeed be held. Without saying so, the calculus there has been to show not all members of the mainline conference — i.e., the socially conservative Sen. Ruben Diaz, a city Council candidate — aren’t on board.

Klein, in a statement, said it’s on the WFP and the Alliance for Quality Education — a union-backed pressure group that has also drawn the ire of Gov. Andrew Cuomo — to push all Democrats on key issues.

“Above all the IDC prides itself on policy, and we are asking all duly elected Democrats to tell New Yorkers where they stand on key progressive issues,” Klein said. “AQE and the WFP should work to make sure every Democrat supports the progressive values they claim to cherish, instead of grandstanding.”

When the IDC was first formed, the idea of a split nationally for the Democratic Party was not being discussed. It was still three years away from Zephyr Teachout’s challenge against Cuomo from the left for the Democratic nomination. It was five years away from Sen. Bernie Sanders taking Hillary Clinton to the brink in the presidential election.

At the time, the IDC was formed in the traumatic wake of a tumultuous two-year majority for the Senate Democrats, whose leadership since the has entirely turned over.

The test now for both sides is which argument over the current two-year cycle will win: The Cuomo branded “Getting Things Done” in Albany versus the ideal of liberals holding power in the Trump era.

Bharara Makes His First Political Endorsement

Dipping his toe into the world of political endorsements, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has given his nod to Democratic Suffolk County district attorney hopeful Tim Sini.

In a statement, Bharara pointed to knowing Sini from his time as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District.

“Those of us who stand for justice, integrity and the law, stand with Tim Sini for District Attorney,” Bharara said.

“I hired Tim as an AUSA in the Southern District of New York in 2010 because I knew he was committed to public service and protecting the people we serve. Just as I hired Tim in 2010 – now it is time for Suffolk County residents to hire him as District Attorney.”

Bharara, constrained from endorsements and opining as a federal prosecutor, has let his hair down on Twitter in recent weeks since he was fired President Donald Trump, posting pointed thoughts on issues ranging from the investigation into Russian meddling in the election to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the MTA.

Bharara has insisted he’s not considering a run for elected office.

In Video, IDC Seeks To ‘Call The Roll’ On Key Liberal Issues

Counteracting Donald Trump. Bolstering the Affordable Care Act. Publicly funding campaigns.

Those are the issues at stake for the Independent Democratic Conference in a video released Monday as the lawmakers in the breakaway bloc seek to re-affirm their support for liberal causes they believe has been lost in the pitched battle being waged by progressive advocacy groups to pressure them into forming a coalition with mainline Democrats.

The video features each of the eight members of the IDC discussing policies such as their support for issues like abortion rights and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA.

All of the issues discussed by the IDC have more or less faced an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate.

But the video also appears to serve as a challenge not to Republicans, whom the IDC has worked with since its inception in 2011, but to mainline Democrats to muster the needed votes for the issues.

“It’s time that we set the record straight,” IDC Leader Jeff Klein says in the video. “In the New York state Senate it takes 32 votes to pass a piece of legislation. It is time to call the roll.”

IDC lawmakers have long asserted the votes don’t exist in the Senate to pass a variety of liberal-friendly measures, such as supporting or strengthening abortion rights. At least one Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Ruben Diaz, now a city Council candidate, is staunchly opposed to abortion.

“It’s time that we let voters know who Democrats are,” Klein says, “and what they really stand for.”

The IDC-mainline Democrat feud took a new turn last week when it was revealed three IDC members had received stipends normally reserved for committee chairs. Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has called for an investigation of the arrangement; Klein and Majority Leader John Flanangan insisted no wrongdoing took place.

The Working Families Party, a longtime bete noir of the IDC, chided the conference in a statement, blaming the Republican control for the measures not passing. Republicans maintain a working majority in the Senate with the help of Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who is not a member of the IDC, but conferences directly with the GOP.

“It’s good to see IDC members voicing support for critical progressive issues,” said Bill Lipton, New York State Director of the Working Families Party. “Whether we can pass them today, next month, or next year depends on whether Democrats from both conferences can unite to build a durable progressive majority. As long as Trump’s Republican Party controls the state senate, that will be impossible. We repeat our call on the IDC to immediately end their outrageous alliance with Senate Republicans.”

Updated: Senate Democrats in the mainline conference chimed in as well.

“I guess the IDC really likes pledges but they must have forgotten that just last week they pledged allegiance to the Senate GOP,” said spokesman Mike Murphy.

“They are hoping New Yorkers forget that they themselves all voted “no” on some of these exact issues and more, including crucial protections for Planned Parenthood, a single payer health plan, strong ethics, and voting reforms. I thought the whole creation of the IDC was to bring Republican votes to issues like these. Everyone already knows there are no bigger champions for all these issues than Senate Democrats. New Yorkers are fed up with the IDC’s gimmicks and their empowerment of Trump Republicans.”

DCCC Adds Reed And Stefanik To 2018 Target List

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already targeting all but one Republican member of the New York delegation in 2018. The DCCC announced Monday it was adding 20 new districts from across the country to its “battlefield” and among them are Rep. Elise Stefanik’s NY-21 and Rep. Tom Reed’s NY-23.

That leaves Rep. Peter King, NY-2, as the only congressional Republican in the state that the committee is not actively fundraising and recruiting against. In all, the DCCC has targeted 79 Republican-held seats.

“House Republicans’ midterm prospects grow dimmer with each passing day thanks to the endless supply of chaos, scandal and broken promises to voters from Republican-controlled Washington,” spokesperson Meredith Kelly stated in a press release.

The DCCC pointed to President Donald Trump’s approval rating as well as the ongoing Russia investigation as important factors that could influence the mid-term election. It also believes competitive special elections for traditionally red seats in Georgia, Montana and Kansas are an “ominous” sign for the GOP.

The Nationals Republican Congressional Committee quickly dismissed that notion.

“Despite losing 1,042 state and federal seats in eight years, national Democrats are still pushing the same divisive rhetoric and painfully out-of-touch liberal agenda,” NRCC spokesman Chris Martin said.

A spokesperson for Reed’s campaign said opposition from the DCCC is nothing new to him. In fact, he noted the congressman soundly defeated candidates recruited and supported by the national organization in his last two elections.

“Tom Reed for Congress is off to its strongest start ever, with record breaking fundraising and grassroots engagement, following two straight double digit victories where the DCCC targeted our race,” said Campaign Manager Nicholas Weinstein. “Our campaign is already up and running and we are confident that our record of caring, common sense conservative leadership and accessibility will continue to resonate with voters across the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes, and Western New York.”

Stefanik’s campaign did not appear to be overly concerned either.

“There will be a time for politics. Now is the time to focus on the hard work of enacting policy and a continued, laser-like focus on putting constituents first. That is exactly what Congresswoman Stefanik is doing,” spokesperson Lenny Alcivar said.

Republicans Lee Zeldin, Dan Donovan, John Faso, Claudia Tenney, John Katko and Chris Collins were identified in the first round of battleground targets.

Stipend Controversy Moves To Investigation Phase

From the Morning Memo:

Lawmakers in the Republican and Independent Democratic Conference spent the week insisting the arrangement in which non-committee chairs receive paid stipends is a legal one.

Now, they could spend next week answering questions about an investigation reportedly be launched by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and prosecutors at the federal Eastern District of New York.

The investigation threatens to hijack what was expected to be a quiet end to the legislative session, due to wind down at the end of June, in which lawmakers were considering a rather light menu of issues such as mayoral control and Gov. Andrew Cuomo was largely leaving to the Legislature.

The development comes after NY1 initially reported this week Scheniderman was keeping his powder dry in the controversy as a referral from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office — who had signed off on the stipend checks — was yet to materialize.

But that tone started to shift on Thursday when Gov. Andrew Cuomo was asked about the stipend controversy, when he put the onus not on the Senate leadership, but his political rival DiNapoli.

Eight lawmakers over the last two years have received payments for holding the official title of “vice chair” in the Senate, receiving checks normally designated for actual committee chairs. The lawmakers are listed on official payroll with the various committee chair titles next to their names.

Senate Republicans have insisted that was meant as a way to designate which lawmaker receives which stipend and not as a way to mislead who had which leadership post. Senate Democrats in the mainline conference have sought an investigation.

Enter Cuomo on Thursday, who has been loathe to comment publicly on the internal power dynamics of the Senate, where the eight-member IDC and Senate Republicans have been allied, much to the chagrin of liberal critics.

Instead, he pointed to DiNapoli, who has he had a feud over the years that has run hot and cold. It’s currently running hot again.

“It’s either legal or not legal. The comptroller of the state signed a check, or funded a payroll, or whatever he did,” Cuomo said Thursday. “He either did it legally or illegally. I believe his position is, It was legal.”

DiNapoli’s office, meanwhile, said it’s not up to the comptroller to determine legality of Senate stipends.

“The Comptroller’s office is not a court of law,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman. “This issue needs to be decided by the Senate itself or the legal system.”

The back-and-forth came after DiNapoli issued a pair of reports this week critical of economic development spending and the agreed-upon state budget, questioning the transparency commitment in the Cuomo administration.

Even more fraught is the debate over procurement reform in the state Legislature, where lawmakers had sought to restore power to the comptroller’s office when it comes to oversight of economic development spending.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan before the controversy over stipends broke last week was confident a form of procurement reform would get done by the end of June.

Stewart-Cousins Calls For Probe Of Senate Stipend Arrangement (Updated)

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday called for an investigation of arrangement of falsely designating some lawmakers as committee chairs on payroll records in order to receive paid stipends.

Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, called for “someone in authority” to review the arrangement in the Senate, which both Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein have insisted is legal.

“It seems every day troubling new questions arise and new details are learned about the apparent abuse of the Senate stipend system,” Stewart-Cousins said in the statement. “The time has come for someone in authority to properly look into these obvious violations of state law as outlined in our legal memo.”

Seven lawmakers who hold vice chair posts in the chamber have received stipends otherwise designated for committee chairs. They were listed as committee chairs in records given to the state comptroller’s office by the Senate.

One Republican, Sen. Pam Helming, has said she is returning her uncashed stipend check.

Updated: Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif responded in a statement.

“Senator Flanagan has already spoken about this matter at length,” he said. “If the Senate Democrats want to play politics, that’s their choice. We have a lot of important work to do before the session concludes next month and that is what we are going to continue to focus on.”