32 Democrats In The Senate? Well… (Updated)

Updated: John Brooks registered to vote as a Democrat just before the election. His registration as it appears online doesn’t take effect until the next election. At any rate, it makes things a bit less complicated, maybe?

Like pre-Great War Europe, NCAA rankings, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the New York state Senate is absurdly complicated.

Consider the composition of the Senate should John Brooks successfully unseat Republican Michael Venditto.

Liberal groups aligned with the mainline conference in the chamber on Thursday urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to bridge the divide between Democrats in the chamber, citing a workable majority if Brooks wins the race, which he currently leads by 41 votes and is subject to a court challenge from the Republicans.

Repeatedly, the groups pointed to “32 Democrats” in the Senate — a formal majority of the 63 seats — that would include the mainline conference of Democrats, the Independent Democratic Conference and Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who sits with the GOP.

And it would presumably include Brooks in that 32-member numerical Democratic majority.

Brooks, however, as of today, is still a registered Republican who ran on the Democratic line in the 8th Senate district.

Brooks most likely will align himself with the Senate Democrats if he’s seated.

At the very least, it’s yet another example of how the Senate and its composition defies shorthand and that it’s hard for anyone to truly claim a majority of party members.

0013_001 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Cuomo And Heastie Spar Over Special Session Specifics

From the Morning Memo:

On Wednesday evening, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie insisted their office had not been in talks with Gov. Andrew Cuomo administration for a pair of constitutional amendments that, if approved, would dramatically change state government.

“We haven’t heard of anything of this,” said Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland. “This is completely false.”

And Heastie himself in a statement later in the evening doubled down on that after Cuomo’s office publicly released the specifics of their amendment proposals that would ban outside income and term limit state lawmakers and elected officials.

In a statement, Heastie said “a number of items” Cuomo has been discussing “have never been brought to my attention.”

“These items include significant issues that go to the very heart of our system of government and they cannot be considered on a whim. I have no idea who the Governor is speaking to about these issues, but it certainly isn’t me,” Heastie said. “The Governor is entitled to his wish list about how he wants to see the world, but the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government and must be respected.”

Heastie’s office throughout Wednesday had denied there was any effort to link ethics reform or any other policies to the reauthorization of a pay commission that would potentially grant lawmakers their first salary increase since 1998.

Acknowledging the issue of linkage is a sensitive one to lawmakers, a Cuomo source close to the talks insisted none of the issues under discussion for a special session — including procurement reform, funding a hate crimes task force and funds for affordable housing — were linked to each other.

The back and forth didn’t end with dueling Heastie and Cuomo statements.

A Cuomo administration officia later Wendesday night sent along this statement: “The speaker must be confused. He met with the Governor on Sunday, talked to Robert Mujica today and his top staff has been talking to executive chamber staff for days.”

The official elaborated an hour later in a longer statement on the issue that was a bit more moderated in tone, but nevertheless urged Heastie to consider more in a special session beyond the reauthorization of the legislative pay commission.

“The Speaker should be working in good faith to reach a workable compromise with the Senate and the Governor rather than wasting precious time which will soon make a resolution impossible by the Dec 31 deadline. This is a zero sum game and if there is no resolution it will be a disservice to his members and to the people of New York,” the official said.

“He also must have forgotten that he spoke to the Budget director today on all these proposals, met with the Governor on Sunday and that his top staffers have been in constant touch with the executive chamber. If the speaker is only interested in a pay raise and is unwilling to pass any legislation that helps the state then he should pass a pay raise on Monday and at least tell the people of the state his position but we want nothing to do with it if there is no public benefit.”

On top of it all, an observer called to note it was the Cuomo administration — not the courts — that announced Chief Judge Janet DiFiore had selected a new chair for the pay commission, a detail included in the lengthy statement on Wednesday night.

Despite the sniping between state government’s top Democrats, a special session is still not out of the question. State lawmakers, especially Democrats who represent the New York City region, are especially eager for a pay increase from the base $79,500, citing the metropolitan area’s cost of living.

Majority Leader John Flanangan does back a pay increase, but Senate Republicans may be a tougher conference to bring to the table, given their incentive is not as strong.

Heastie and Cuomo have had an increasingly truculent relationship over the last several months that has, with the speaker having been clearly annoyed at the end of the legislative session this year, blasting the governor’s ongoing feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, squeezing the Democratic-led Assembly in the process.

WFP’s Guilt By Association

A common thread has emerged with the critics of Sen. Simcha Felder’s decision to stick with the Senate Republicans: Siding with the GOP is akin to siding with President-elect Donald Trump.

That was the reaction of the Working Families Party, the labor-backed organization that slammed Felder’s decision and provided a warning shot to any other Democrats (such as the unnamed Independent Democratic Conference) for aligning themselves with the state Senate Republicans.

“The election of Donald Trump is an emergency. Trump’s selection of senior advisors and cabinet officials with white supremacist, racist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic views only serves to heighten the threat that millions of New Yorkers are now facing — most immediately immigrants, Muslims, and women,” said Bill Lipton’s the WFP’s state director.

“The New York Republican Party has stood hand in hand with Donald Trump since the beginning of his campaign. They stood with him as he toured the nation spouting hateful, dangerous rhetoric. They used many of the same divisive and hateful tactics in their own campaigns here in New York. They’ve joined him in rejecting climate science, and have stood with him since Election Day as he has brought bigotry and white supremacy directly into the White House in the form of Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and others.”

The WFP has urged Democratic officeholders in New York to stand as a firewall of sorts against Trump and Republican congressional rule in Washington. One way of doing that is a Democratic-controlled Senate — a prospect that is further out of reach by Felder’s decision to remain in the GOP conference.

“If we are going to make New York a bulwark against Trumpism, Democratic State Senators must unite to show their unequivocal opposition to the racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and sharp departure from democratic norms that Trump is set to unleash. We must unite to show our deep commitment to transforming our politics and economy so that they work for working families everywhere,” Lipton said.

“These are not normal times. Any Democratic State Senator who makes the choice to caucus with Republicans will be abandoning those working families in New York most urgently threatened by a Trump presidency. New York Senate Democrats must unite to stand strong for all of us.”

The pressure could ultimately wind up being a moot point should Republicans win two races on Long Island that are yet to be officially declared and retain the status quo in the chamber.

With Trump As President, Pressure Put On Cuomo For Dream Act

From the Morning Memo:

Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly are once again pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include the Dream Act in a final budget deal next year — an effort that’s taken on new urgency with the election of Republican Donald Trump to the presidency.

The bill would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and has been considered a key measure for Latino lawmakers in Albany.

The Dream Act has stalled for years in the Legislature amid Republican opposition in the state Senate, where GOP lawmakers have campaigned against the proposal as polls generally show a plurality of voters in the state opposing the idea.

“It’s going to be an interesting session,” said Bronx Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda in a Capital Tonight interview. “There are a lot of issues with Trump now being the president. The governor is going to have to lead. He’s going to have to be one of the primary leaders on progressive issues throughout the country, not just in New York.”

At the same time, Cuomo is being viewed as a potential 2020 presidential candidate and, at the very least, a Democrat who can broadcast a liberal vision during the wilderness years for the party. Over the last week, Cuomo has asserted New York would be a “refuge” for immigrants during the Trump presidency — allaying liberal fears and laying the groundwork for a potential bid for national office.

“Let’s test his mettle,” Sepulveda said. “Will he put the DREAM Act in the budget? That will be the first sign he’s willing to find to the end of these kids and some of these progressive causes.”

The pressure would also come as Cuomo is facing the crosscurrents of a Democratic-led Assembly deeply unhappy over his appointees on a commission this week blocking the first pay increase for state lawmakers since 1998, arguing that any such hike should also come with legislators limiting how much they earn outside of government.

Cuomo, too, has repeatedly voiced support for the Dream Act even as Republicans insist the bill is a non-starter in budget talks.

But both Sepvulved and Queens Assemblyman Francisco Moya stopped short of declaring they would not back a spending plan next year that failed to include the provision.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to galvanize as a body,” Moya said “There’s a federal government that’s changing the way they view people of color, Latinos. Right now, we have a piece of legislation we should be championing. It’s time for action, not words.”

Hedging On Pelosi?

From the Morning Memo:

As a leadership vote on re-electing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was delayed until later this month, Rep. Paul Tonko is praising the “messaging” of the California Democrat who has led the caucus for more than a decade.

But in a Capital Tonight interview on Wednesday, Tonko would not commit explicitly to whether Pelosi should receive another term as Democratic leader.

“I think that the leadership of Nancy Pelosi has served the Democrats well in the House and I think she has had the right message and she has shared the right message on behalf of our caucus,” he said.

Pelosi is facing some discontent within the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives after meager gains were made in a year that down-ballot Democrats were expected to perform well, but came up short amid Donald Trump’s victory on Election Day.

Pelosi was the House speaker, the first woman to hold the post, from 2007 through 2011.

Since Pelosi lost the speaker’s gavel in 2011, Democrats have struggled in elections to chip away at the GOP majority.

“I think that the leadership of our house has done a great job of keeping our efforts and our focus on the growth of the economy and job creation,” Tonko said. “While the president will no long be of our party, I think the messaging and the voice will be looked to in the House and the Senate.”

House Dems: Rescind Bannon Appointment

Sixteen congressional Democrats from New York were among the 170 House members who signed on to a letter Wednesday calling on President-elect Trump to rescind his appointment of Steve Bannon, a controversial figure who has ties to the white nationalist movement in the United States.

“Since the election there have been a number of incidents across the country in which minorities, including Muslim Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Jewish Americans, have been the targets of violence, harassment and intimidation,” the letter reads.

“Mr. Bannon’s appointment sends the wrong message to people who have engaged in those types of activities, indicating that they will not only be tolerated, but endorsed by your Administration. Millions of Americans have expressed fear and concern about how they will be treated by the Trump Administration and your appointment of Mr. Bannon only exacerbates and validates their concerns.”

Bannon is set to become a top advisor in the Trump White House and is the former CEO of Breitbart News, a website that has posted anti-Semitic and racist stories.

The letter was blasted out this afternoon by Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Rochester-area Democrat. Signing on to the letter includes all members of the Democratic House delegation from New York.

The letter comes as House Democrats entered a period of turmoil on Tuesday after the vote to re-elect Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was delayed following Democratic losses in the state.

‘Disaster For New York’ If Senate Dems Don’t Stick Together

From the Morning Memo:

Should Democrats gain a 32-member numerical majority in the state Senate but fail to make that a working majority in the chamber would make for a “disaster for New York” as Republicans prepare to take full control of the Congress and presidency next year, Sen. Michael Gianaris said in a Capital Tonight interview.

The Queens Democrat, reappointed to the number two post in the mainline conference and the leader of its fundraising operations, opened up what will likely be a main argument for Democrats sticking together: Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress could threaten liberal gains made under President Obama.

“It’s going to come down to the states to hold the line against any efforts to roll back our progressive accomplishments,” he said. “That’s why it’s critical that if we end up with a situation there are more Democrats than Republicans that Democrats work together.”

A few more dominoes have to fall first.

Two Long Island-based state Senate races are yet to be decided. Should Democrats win one of those contests, they’ve reached the magic number of 32.

They would have to first woo Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder to their conference and negotiate a working partnership with the soon-to-be seven-member Independent Democratic Conference led by Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein.

Felder has already held “direct” discussions with the recently re-elected Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

At the same time, a deal would need to be struck with Klein, whose conference added last week Sen. Jesse Hamilton and is due to expand with Marisol Alcantara, a senator-elect from Manhattan.

Klein in 2012 faced a very different set of pressures. He faced a primary from Oliver Koppel, a former attorney general and city councilman and was pushed by liberal advocates to work with mainline Democrats.

He didn’t, ultimately forming a majority coalition with Republicans in the state Senate.

Pressure on Klein cooled down in the subsequent years. Gianaris insisted the relationship with Klein and the mainline conference has “improved dramatically” in recent years.

But that pressure could always return, should Democrats pull out a numeric advantage.

“The fact that we would have 32 Democrats in the state Senate and not work together would be a disaster for New York,” Gianaris said.

As for whether Klein could win more Democrats to his conference, Gianaris pointed to the re-election of Stewart-Cousins as leader.

“Today we had all our members at a meeting and they all expressed their support for Andrea Stewart-Cousins,” he said. “I’m very confident they’re going to stick with our conference.”

WFP: Bannon Appointment ‘Not Normal’

From the Morning Memo:

The Working Families Party in a statement on Tuesday evening pointed to the appointment of white nationalist Steve Bannon as yet another sign Democrats in New York — the state Senate specifically — need to work together.

Bannon, the former CEO of Breitbart News, has been criticized for the website’s openly anti-Semitic, racist and misogynist posts, and is set to become Donald Trump’s top advisor in the White House after righting his campaign this summer.

“Any New York Republican with a conscience should reject Trump’s attempt to bring white supremacy directly into the White House and call on him to rescind his appointment of Steve Bannon,” the WFP said in a statement. “Any New York Democratic State Senator who caucuses with Republicans will be choosing to prop up a Republican Party that has invited hate into its very core.”

Still, Bannon’s appointment was met with a shrug by Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, an Orthodox Jew, who told reporters this week the controversy doesn’t directly impact his constituents more than his decision as to where he’ll sit in the chamber.

Felder, who conferenced with the GOP for the last several sessions, is yet to determine which side he’ll align himself with this coming year.

The WFP, meanwhile, is also ramping up pressure on Cuomo to push the various factions in the Senate together.

“Governor Cuomo must work to bring the IDC and all Senate Democrats together to form a united front against Trumpism. We must join together to present an alternative vision of equal rights and economic justice for all New Yorkers.”

Heastie, Flanagan In Joint Statement Blast Pay Commission

The top state lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate in a rare joint statement blasted the decision by the Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation Commission that essentially blocked a pay increase for state lawmakers.

In the statement, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan knocked Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointees on the commission for calling for ethics measures be linked to the first pay hike in 18 years.

“It is unfortunate that the Governor’s appointees to the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation once again felt the need to demand legislative action in exchange for an increase in compensation,” the lawmakers said. “This is completely unacceptable and far exceeds the mandate of the Commission, which was to evaluate the need for an increase in compensation based primarily on economic factors.

“As the Judiciary appointees of the Commission correctly noted, not only does its existence and charge expire on November 15, they too were troubled by attaching legislative action to pay compensation.
Despite the Governor’s appointees’ refusal to discharge their duties, the Legislature will continue to focus on issues that truly matter to New Yorkers and help move our State forward.”

Specifically, Cuomo-appointed commission members said lawmakers should back measures to limit or ban private-sector income in exchange for the pay hike, leaving open the possibility of another meeting before the end of the year.

Stewart-Cousins Re-Elected Leader Of Senate Democrats

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins was unanimously re-elected the leader of the mainline Democratic conference on Tuesday and re-appointed Sen. Michael Gianaris her deputy and top fundraiser.

“I am honored to continue serving as the Leader of the Senate Democrats and thank my colleagues for their continued support,” Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “With Donald Trump’s election, the need for a strong Senate Democratic Conference which works to protect New Yorkers’ rights and values has never been more vital. That is why we need all Democrats in the State Senate to work together and stand united.

Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, was first elected leader of the conference in 2012 and is the first woman to lead a legislative conference in state government history.

Her re-election to the leadership post comes as Democrats struggled in elections last week, though two races remain too-close-to-call on Long Island. A day before the election, meanwhile, another member of the mainline conference, Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn, switched to the now-seven member Independent Democratic Conference.

Still, Stewart-Cousins has remain broadly popular in her conference. She was nominated by Buffalo Sen. Tim Kennedy, who has been rumored repeatedly as a potential IDC member.

“Andrea Stewart-Cousins is an exemplary Leader and I am proud to continue serving as her Deputy and Chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee,” Gianaris said in a statement. “New York has always been a forward-looking progressive state and our leadership has never been more essential following the results of the national elections.”