For Now, A ‘Blue Wave’ Is Yet To Crest In The Senate

Democrats had hoped this would be the month a takeover of the state Senate was possible.

After all, the ingredients were there: The eight-member Independent Democratic Conference has dissolved, with its lawmakers rejoining the Democratic conference, uniting the factions in the chamber. Then, on Tuesday, the party retained two seats in special elections to fill vacancies in the Bronx and Westchester County, giving them 32 enrolled members in the chamber.

But it wasn’t to be. Sen. Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat, will continue to conference with Republicans, at least for now.

“I’m hoping that he may reconsider, but whatever happens, we’re willing to work with it,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview.

Stewart-Cousins, who would become the first woman to lead a legislative majority in Albany, was confident the coalition built to push for a Democratic takeover in her chamber — including the former IDC, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Working Families Party — will be able to hold together on that one shared goal.

“Not only do I believe it will hold together until November, it will hold together until after November as well,” she said.

Stewart-Cousins had spoken with Felder to urge him to switch to the other side of the aisle in the Senate.

“I’m hoping that he may reconsider, but whatever happens, we’re willing to work with it,” she said.

For Republicans, who are keeping their last toehold of statewide power with Felder’s help, his decision to stay put is an obviously welcome well, even as they brace for a potential Democratic wave year.

“He’s a man of integrity and to my mind he came up with the right decision and everything will play out in November because everyone is up for re-election at that time,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse.

Democrats are banking on a fervent anti-Donald Trump sentiment to carry their candidates running up and down the ballot into office, hoping marginal districts for Republicans will be in play.

“I think people are really starting to understanding, particularly what’s happening with the federal government, why it’s important to have Democrats in office,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though, continued to apply some public pressure on Felder, issuing a letter to the lawmaker and predicting not much may get accomplished in the Senate without Democrats in charge.

“If you don’t a change in the leadership, I don’t see anything significant happening,” he said at a news conference. “Everything we could possibly get done, we got done when we passed the budget.”

Cuomo faces his own political test this summer with a primary challenge from actress and education advocate Cynthia Nixon on his left flank. Liberal activists have blamed Cuomo for the arrangement in the Senate that led Republicans to retain power.

Cuomo this month worked to broker the IDC-mainline Democratic truce in the Senate and campaigned for Democratic Senate candidate Shelley Mayer in Westchester County.

“He has created this climate and it’s not surprising that we’re in the situation we’re in with Simcha Felder right now,” Nixon said during a stop in Buffalo.

As for Felder, he continues to publicly hedge, with the focus staying on him and the Senate on a knife’s edge.

Asked Wednesday if he’s apt to change his mind, Felder said, “I never say never.”

Koppell Dings Klein, Backs His Primary Opponent

Former state Attorney General Oliver Koppell, who unsuccessfully challenged his fellow Bronx Democrat, Sen. Jeff Klein, in a 2014 primary, today is announcing his support for the woman currently trying to unseat Klein this September, Alessandra Biaggi.

In a statement obtained by CapTon, Koppell said Biaggi’s election “will send a powerful message and take us one step closer to the progressive Democratic majority we deserve—one that passes stronger rent laws, the Dream Act, real campaign finance reform, and the Reproductive Health Act to firmly protect a woman’s right to choose in New York.”

“Alessandra Biaggi will help enact the progressive agenda that Senator Klein’s IDC/Republican alliance has unconscionably blocked for the past seven years,” Koppell continued. “And she’ll bring new Democratic energy to a State Senate that needs it.”

The timing of Koppell’s announcement is ironic, given the fact that the Senate Democrats came one step closer to controlling the majority with yesterday’s win in a Westchester special election of Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer over Republican Julie Killian.

All that remains now is convincing Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder to reconsider his decision to remain with the Senate GOP through the end of the session – an effort Gov. Andrew Cuomo apparently has personally undertaken – and the Democrats will once again be in charge in the upper house.

But Koppell is apparently siding with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that feels the reunification of the warring Democratic factions in the Senate, which was engineered by the governor a few weeks ago as he started to significantly feel pressure from his own primary challenger, actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, is too little, too late.

The Working Families Party is backing Biaggi and other Democrats who are challenging IDC members, and has not dropped that support in the wake of the peace deal brokered by the governor. (The party is also backing Nixon, which has led to split among its the labor and activist wings).

In his statement, which will be in wide release later today, Koppell accused Klein of empowering Republicans in New York, helping them raise millions of dollars not only to maintain control of the majority, but to further the “Trump agenda.”

According to Koppell, who is also a former NYC Council member, Klein has “betrayed the Democratic Party and hindered the realization of Democratic policies in New York State and nationally.”

Biaggi, a former counsel for Cuomo who also served as a top aide on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, said she is “thrilled” to have Koppell’s support, adding:

“He has championed issues throughout his distinguished career in public service that will be top priorities for me — from consumer protection and tenants’ rights to environmental conservation and government reform.”

One might ask just how significant Koppell’s endorsement is in terms of his ability to move voters. As Klein and his supporters would no doubt point out, Koppell conceded the race back in 2014 as the senator was maintaining a 25-percentage point lead on primary night.

It’s also worth noting that back in 2014, Klein announced his intention to realign his then-breakaway conference, the IDC, with the so-called regular Senate Democrats, but then never followed through. Koppell maintained his primary challenge to the senator anyway, running with the endorsement of the New York Times.

Democrats Win, But Republicans Retain Power

From the Morning Memo:

There’s a new status quo for Democrats in the state Senate: The Independent Democratic Conference is dissolved and they have 32 enrolled members, enough for a narrow working majority after keeping two seats in their column following special elections on Tuesday.

But for now, that’s not the case. There have been 32 registered Democratic members of the state Senate in recent years, but the disbanded IDC is no longer keeping Republicans in power as either a key bloc of votes or in an outright majority coalition.

It’s now down to one man: Sen. Simcha Felder, who insisted on Tuesday, hours before the polls closed in special elections in the Bronx and Westchester County, that he would not go anywhere, at least until the end of the legislative session, which concludes in June.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing political pressure from the left to push Democrats to a majority, was similarly insistent on Tuesday evening at the victory party for Democrat Shelley Mayer that all Democrats in the Senate — Felder included — must work together.

“And my friends, today is just the beginning,” Cuomo said. “Because we now have 32 registered Democrats under the leadership of Andrea Stewart-Cousins and we expect and believe 32 registered democrats are going to come together and form a Democratic majority. And today is just the beginning, because we are going to go out and work every day until November, and we are going to send Washington a message and we are going to elect a Democratic House to stop this Republican president freight train.”

On social media, Cuomo went further, with his Twitter account posting “We now have 32 Democrats under the leadership of @AndreaSCousins.” As Republicans pointed out in a statement of their own, that’s not true.

“The New York City politicians who think it will be easy to flip the State Senate and impose their radical agenda on the people of New York should take heed,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif.

“Our Majority represents the checks and balances, and the real accountability that hardworking taxpayers need and deserve. Without us it’s one party rule, higher taxes, runaway spending and New Yorkers will be less safe.”

It’s not clear at this point what Cuomo can do, exactly, to move Felder out of the Republican fold.

Felder does not face similar political pressures that Sen. Jeff Klein and members of the IDC faced that led them to rejoin the Democratic conference. He has made clear he will back whichever conference he feels is best for his constituents, many of whom are Orthodox Jews.

Democrats may well continue to look toward November, when their base is expected to turnout heavily in down-ballot races.

“To be certain: this is a great night for us and our shared New York Values as we add our State to the momentum of the “blue wave” as it heads into November,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, the chairman of the state Democratic Committee. “And, my friends, this is just the start of all the progress yet to come.”

Senate Democrats Win 2 Open Seats, But Not A Working Majority

Senate Democrats on Tuesday won a pair of open seats in the state Senate giving them 32 enrolled members in the 63-seat chamber, but for now are denied a working majority.

Democrats Luis Sepulveda and Shelley Mayer declared victory in two open Senate districts, in the Bronx and in suburban Westchester County.

The latter race was a costly special election to fill the vacancy created at the start of the year by George Latimer’s departure to become Westchester County executive.

“This has been an amazing campaign, and I am so proud to be the next State Senator for the 37th District. It was a spirited and hard-fought race, but this campaign was always bigger than me,” Mayer said in a statement. “All of us are part of something bigger, a movement for change, a blue wave rising in special election after special election. Tonight, that wave rolled across Westchester, from Yonkers to Bedford.”

But earlier in the day, and as votes were being cast in 11 special elections for legislative seats across the state, Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder announced he would continue to conference through the end of the session with Senate Republicans. Felder, an enrolled Democrat, had been considered a wildcard in the push to reunite Democrats in the chamber.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month announced a peace deal between the mainline Democratic conference in the state Senate and the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference. The move led to the dissolution of the IDC, one step in Democrats taking a majority this month.

Pushing Felder out of the Republican conference was considered a different, potentially more cumbersome chore for Democrats in New York. Felder in an interview earlier in the day would not say if Cuomo personally sought to apply pressure on him to switch conferences.

Facing a Democratic primary challenge on his left from Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo appeared at a rally for Mayer in the district and push GOTV efforts from the state Democratic Committee.

Regardless, the altered status quo stands in the Senate with Republicans maintaining a narrow majority, but Democrats arrayed to take power, hopeful that a wave year could spread to down ballot races.

“These electoral wins are part of the ‘blue wave’ sweeping our state and nation which will help even more Senate Democratic candidates win in the upcoming General Election,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“Now is the time for all Senators elected as Democrats to work together and achieve the functional Democratic Majority that New York voters elected this past November, and again tonight.”

WFP Touts AG Schneiderman Endorsement

Lost in the mix somewhat of the Working Families Party endorsing gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor was the party backing incumbent Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for a third term.

On Tuesday, the WFP acknowledged Schneiderman’s endorsement. The party also endorsed Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for a third full term.

“At a time when the Trump Administration is waging war on working families, Attorney General Schneiderman has fought unequivocally for all New Yorkers” said Working Families Party Director Bill Lipton.

“Attorney General Schneiderman makes sure everyone plays by the same set of rules, no matter how rich or powerful they may be—and even if their name is Donald Trump. From defending our environment, to fighting for racial and economic justice, Eric Schneiderman has taken bold action to make New York more fair and just, distinguishing himself as a leader in the resistance. The Working Families Party is proud to endorse the Attorney General for re-election.”

Schneiderman is yet to officially draw a Republican challenger, but GOP candidate Manny Alicandro has filed to run for the post.

SD-37: Cuomo, State Dems Push GOTV

The state Democratic Committee on Tuesday morning released a get-out-the-vote email signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo aimed at boosting voter turnout in the key 37th Senate district.

The special election being held today in Westchester County is one of 11 legislative vacancies being filled in the Legislature. But the seat is a pivotal for Democrats potentially taking a working majority in the chamber.

Democrat Shelley Mayer, a state assemblywoman, faces Republican Julie Killian.

“Happy special election day. It’s April 24th and we need everyone to get out and vote to elect Shelley Mayer as our next state senator in Westchester and flip the state Senate from #RedToBlue. Shelley is a proven leader with the experience, integrity, and talent we need to enact progressive policies and fight for middle- and working-class New Yorkers,” the email stated, signed by the governor.

The seat has long been a Democratic one, but Republicans have spent heavily in recent years to flip it to no avail.

“This election is about who we are as New Yorkers. It’s about our shared values as Democrats – our belief in fairness and equality for all,” Cuomo’s email stated.

“We reject what Washington and the rapid Republicans are trying to do, and we see a different path forward for this state. Shelley Mayer is the best person to lead the fight for New Yorkers, help us win a Democratic Senate Majority and stand up for inclusion, acceptance, and opportunity.”

NY-19: Rhodes Begins Ad Campaign

From the Morning Memo:

Democratic congressional candidate Gareth Rhdoes is getting up on the airwaves in the hotly competitive 19th district Democratic primary.

His campaign later on Tuesday is set to unveil a TV and radio campaign being launched ahead of the June primary. The ad package is set to include TV, radio and digital spots — representing his first major media buy.

Rhodes, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is among a crowded field of Democrats vying to take on Rep. John Faso in the Hudson Valley House district this fall.

Last week, Rhodes’s campaign received a boost with an online straw poll that ranked him first among the preferred candidates in the race.

“Growing up working on a farm, drilling water wells, serving as a volunteer firefighter, I felt the frustration of working just to make ends meet,” Rhodes says in the spot, “So I’m running a very different type of campaign. I’m not relying on those Washington consultants – I’m going to every single town in this congressional district, listing to the concerns of my neighbors and my friends.”

The ad highlights his family and personal ties to the district and his trips around the area, part of a 163-town campaign as well as his stances on Social Security, health care, as well as combatting opioid addiction and gun violence.

The ads will begin airing this week on cable TV and radio news and entertainment networks as well as social media platforms. Dovetailing with the ads is the campaign’s first piece of direct mail that will highlight endorsements from prominent Democratic officials and activists.

The ad was produced by Metropolitan Public Strategies, which is advising the Rhodes campaign.

Cuomo: Westchester Race ‘First Battle’ In Push For Democratic Victories

From the Morning Memo:

A special election to fill an open Senate seat in Westchester County is the “first battle” toward a Democratic Party takeover of the state Senate in Albany and the House of Representatives in Washington, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday said.

Cuomo rallied over the weekend with Democrats in the northern New York City suburbs to boost Democratic state Senate hopeful Shelley Mayer, who is running for the open Westchester County Senate district in what is considered a key special election.

“And it’s the first battle in the war that continues every day until November,” Cuomo said at the rally. “Because we have to elect a Democratic House in November to stop this freight train that the President is now running, and the only way to stop that extreme conservative freight train is to elect a Democratic Congress that can stand up and stop it.”

The seat is one of 11 districts in the Senate and Assembly being considered in special elections on Tuesday. Republicans are contesting this district, having long eyed the seat as one that could be flipped.

A Mayer victory would give Democrats 32 enrolled lawmakers in the state Senate and, depending on what Sen. Simcha Felder does, a working majority in the chamber. There has been no indication from Felder if he will switch from the Republican conference to the Democratic fold.

Cuomo earlier this month announced a truce between the warring factions of Democrats in the Senate, leading to the dissolution of the Independent Democratic Conference in the chamber and their return to the mainline conference fold.

Cuomo has faced increasing pressure from the left to unite the party in the Senate, which liberals have blamed for blocking or helping to dilute reform legislation.

Republicans in the state Senate, meanwhile, continued to rack up law enforcement endorsements in the race. On Sunday, she was given the nod of the Supreme Court Officers Association.

“Our members respect Julie’s experience and support as a member of the public service community,” said Patrick Cullen, the organization’s president. “Julie’s ardor for duty and service is manifest throughout her life and career and that makes the Association proud to endorse Julie Killian for election as the next State Senator from the 37th District.”

NY-19: Rhodes Touts Lead In Survey Ranking

Democratic congressional candidate Gareth Rhodes Friday touted an online survey by an advocacy group that ranked him first among the crowded field of candidates vying for the nomination in the 19th district.

The poll by the group Listen To Us John Faso surveyed 2,200 people, asking them to rank the seven Democrats in the race. Rhodes, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, received 73 first place votes, followed by Brian Flynn with 37 votes.

“We’re running a completely different type of campaign and we have been from Day One,” Rhodes said in a statement. “We’re building a coalition in all 163 towns in NY-19, of New Yorkers like those activists polled who are tired of the failed leadership of Rep. Faso, sick of the chaos in Washington, and ready for a new generation of leaders to get things done.”

The survey is akin to something of a straw poll: It was conducted online and open to members of the group.

Faso is seeking a second term for the Hudson Valley congressional district that is considered a key battleground race this fall for Democrats.

SD-37: Biden Robos For Mayer

Former Vice President Joe Biden has recorded a robocall as part of a get-out-the-vote effort in the key 37th Senate district in Westchester County.

The call was first reported today by The Daily News.

The call seeks to boost turnout for Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, who is seeking the Senate seat vacated earlier this year by Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

“Shelley is a fighter who will stand up and champion our values: common-sense gun reform, protecting women’s health and the environment and supporting our schools,” Biden says in the call.

Mayer is running against Republican Julie Killian. A Democratic victory in the race could potentially lead to the party taking control of the chamber later this month.