Nov 8th - 1:39 pm
ICYMI: Sen. Cathy Young, who took control of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee over the summer, told me on CapTon last night that the GOP’s focus in the 2014 elections will be to protect its current members and grow its conference, leaving little left over to provide assistance to members of its power-sharing partner, the IDC.
“You know we’re really focused on the Republican seats, and that’s really where we’re really going to put our efforts,” Young said. “I think we’ve got great opportunities moving forwaard.”
“I really feel that because of the success we just had in this election, it bodes very well; it’s a great bellweather for what’s going to happen….The success that we had across the state, I think is going to translate in the coming year.”
That’s a departure from Young’s predecessor, Sen. Tom Libous, who said back in June that he would be “very open” to helping IDC members “any way I could” in the coming elections, though he did also acknowledge that his first priority would be to assist members of his own conference.
It was recently reported that NYC Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have discussed targeting the four IDC senators – especially their leader, Jeff Klein, and his girlfriend, Sen. Diane Savino - during the September primary next year in retaliation for their failure to get “progressive” legislation like the governor’s Women’s Equality Act and campaign finance reform passed in the Senate.
Klein responded by announcing his plan to champion de Blasio’s plan to hike taxes on the rich to fund universal pre-K and after school programs – a proposal Cuomo has more or less said is a non-starter in the 2014 legislative session.
Young also hedged het bets a little bit, telling me that whatever happens in the 2014 elections, the Republicans will still be interested in working with the IDC, explaining:
“We’re looking to gain more seats for the Senate Republicans, but if you recall with the IDC we actually had a good working relationship even when we had the majority the last time. So, I expect that relationship to continue. It’s been very positive. As you know, we don’t agree on everything, but it’s been a very successful power-sharing agreement thus far, and I anticipate that it will continue.”
Young brushed off any talk of the SRCC being hurt by the departure from the public stage of Mayor Bloomberg, who has been the single biggest individual donor to the Senate GOP’s campaign coffers since he took office 12 years ago. She insisted a wide variety of donors are interested in supporting the Republicans’ political effort, though she didn’t name names.
Oct 9th - 1:57 pm
Sen. Jeff Klein, the Senate co-president and the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, received the “Oil Slick Award” from the Environmental Advocates of New York after he was accused of bottling up key environmental reform legislation.
The bills would have placed new restrictions on toxics in children’s toys and provide for the uniform treatment for the disposal of waste generated by oil and natural gas activities.
The environmental lobby group accused Klein of exercising his power to restrain Republicans from preventing bills the organization opposes for a vote and voting in favor of legislation that “would have significant and lasting detrimental impacts on our environment.”
At the same time, the group faults Klein for not sending to Gov. Andrew Cuomo legislation that would fight climate change or modernize the state’s infrastructure.
“We had high hopes leading in to 2013 that bipartisan leadership would break the legislative logjam that has stalled so many environmental initiatives in the State Senate,” said Executive Director Dave Gahl. “But during 2013 Senator Klein led the State Senate in the wrong direction while becoming a new obstacle to environmental progress. We hope that receiving the Oil Slick award will be the wakeup call that Senator Klein needs to be the leader he promised.”
Gahl will be a guest on tonight’s edition of Capital Tonight at 8 and 11:30.
IDC spokesman Eric Soufer didn’t mince words in his response to the negative rating for Klein.
“Environmental Advocates is about as credible on climate policy as the Koch Brothers are on tax policy,” Soufer said. “Today’s event was just another cheap gimmick brought to you by the tea party of the left. But we should expect nothing less from a group run by expendable ex-staffers from the Senate Democrats’ failed turn in power. Senator Klein not only opposes hydrofracking outright, but has been endorsed by nearly every environmental group in every election he has ever run. We will let those facts speak for themselves.”
Klein has often come under fire from liberal groups and critics for the coalition, most notably in the last year when it comes to abortion when women’s groups accused him of not pushing activley for a floor vote on a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade in state law.
The Bronx Democrat, who made a last-ditch maneuver in June to gain a vote that failed, has insisted he’s been able to produce results in the Senate when working with the GOP.
Sep 9th - 12:18 pm
Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein vowed today to run primary efforts against sitting Democratic lawmakers, indicating a desire to grow his four-person breakaway faction.
No, that’s not a lede from 2011, when Klein pledged to do very much the same, only failing to win his only officially backed primary challenger, Shawn Morse.
But the IDC and the mainline Senate Democrats have spent the last several days sniping at each other and as threats of primary campaigns against their respective leadership emerged.
City Councilman Ollie Koppell, who served for a year as state attorney general, is rumored to be interested in running against Klein next year, but threw cold water on that idea in an interview with The Riverdale Press.
Ex-Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who broke bread recently with Klein, has been floated by the IDC as a primary challenger to Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Brodsky, too, has hedged on such a primary against the Yonkers Democrat.
Nevertheless, Klein today talked Brodsky up once again as a potential challenger.
“I served with Richard for 10 years in the Assembly,” Klein told Dicker. “He’s smart, he’s hard working, not afraid to speak his mind as you know and I think he’d be a great candidate for the state Senate and a great IDC member.”
The primary threats are nothing new.
Klein and the IDC has relished in playing what on some occasions amounts to head games with the Senate Democrats, mostly through strategic donations and public flattering of rival primary candidates.
But the only tangible primary challenge was Morse, the chairman of the Albany County Legislature who was easily defeated by Sen. Neil Breslin in a primary last year.
In another ill-fated attempt to peel away Senate Democrats, Sen. Malcolm Smith joined the IDC last year as it was preparing to join forces with the numerically outnumbered Senate Republicasn in a governing coalition.
Smith, who would later be accused of attempting to bribe his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot as a Republican, was subsequently booted from the conference.
At the same time, whispers that IDC Sen. David Carlucci of Rockland County could face a primary persist as well.
But it was the possible Koppell challenge that put Klein’s back up.
“Where we come from in the Bronx, it doesn’t suit you very well to become a punching bag,” he said. “So we’re going to respond in kind and we’re going to run primaries against sitting Democratic incumbents, open seats. It’s no secret we’ve been trying to expand the IDC and I think this is an opportunity to do that.”
As for the future of the governing coalition — a very closely watched relationship in Albany that has been challenged by a minimum wage increase, gun control and abortion — Klein insisted he’s firm partners with Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos.
“Senator Skelos has been a terrific governing partner,” he said. “I think he understands what’s best for New Yorkers.”
As for whether the gun control vote split the Senate Republicans, Klein told Dicker — a firm proponent of gun rights — that isn’t the case.
“I think his conference — my take on this — they’re still a united conference,” he said. “They’re very disciplined. I don’t see any kind of turmoil that would hurt the Republican conference.”
Sep 5th - 11:28 am
A reader in the Bronx forwarded me an article from The Riverdale Press in which Councilman Oliver Koppell hedges somewhat in whether he’ll primary Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.
While Koppell was critical of Klein coalition alliance with the Senate GOP (“He’s betrayed the Democratic Party,” Koppell told the paper), he wouldn’t commit to a primary.
“It’s a tough race,” Koppell said. “I don’t know if I’m the best candidate to run.”
Nevertheless, Koppell believes Klein should be booted from the Senate and blamed him for the failure in the Legislature to approve an overhaul of campaign finance laws and the passage of the abortion plank in the women’s agenda.
The Koppell skirmish is part of a larger internecine battle between the mainline Democrats and the breakaway conference that formed a governing majority with numerically outnumbered Republican lawmakers.
In another flare up, the IDC has expressed interest in backing former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky in a primary against Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
In an interview on The Capitol Pressroom this morning, Stewart-Cousins told host Susan Arbetter she was “sad and surprised” to learn of the potential Brodsky challenge.
Ever since the Independent Democratic Conference was formed in 2011, threats and counterthreats have been bandied back and forth by either side (much to the delight of Senate Republicans).
So far, the only tangible primary challenge from the IDC aimed at a mainline Democrat has been the ill-fated effort by Shawn Morse, an Albany County legislator, who was crushed by Sen. Neil Breslin last year.
Updated: I’d be remiss to note that as per Arbetter, Brodsky has said he’s not running for Stewart-Cousins’s seat. So, shockingly, this was pretty much an exercise in wheel-spinning.
Aug 28th - 12:12 pm
The Democratic-led Assembly approved the full, 10-point women’s agenda knowing the controversial abortion plank didn’t stand a chance of passing the coalition-controlled Senate, Independent Democratic Conference Sen. David Valesky this morning said in a radio interview.
The Syracuse-area lawmaker said it was “very disappointing” that the remaining nine out of 10 points in the agenda — including curbs on human trafficking and a pay equity component — were not made law and he blamed the Assembly for not returning to Albany to pass the measures that could become law.
“I am convinced there are not 32 votes in the state Senate … to actually pass the 10th item of the governor’s program bill,” Valesky said in the interview with Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom.
The Assembly approved the omnibus package on June 20 as introduced by Cuomo earlier in the year.
Two days before the Assembly vote, Cuomo broke the agenda into 10 separate bills as a hedge for the narrowly divided Senate, which ultimately approved nine out of 10.
Under pressure from women’s groups to hold a vote, Sen. Jeff Klein, the IDC leader and Senate co-president, attempted to attach the abortion provision to another bill, an effort that failed.
Klein had insisted during the process that a vote should be held on the agenda to determine where the Senate stands (and in the process draw out at least one Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Ruben Diaz, for voting no and thus claim his conference was 100 percent in favor of abortion rights).
As to whether the Senate should return and try to pass what the Assembly approved, Valesky today said allowing a vote on the floor on doomed legislation doesn’t do much good.
“I think that failure on the floor of the Senate does a greater harm, a greater disservice,” he said.
A Siena College poll isn’t with the Senate coalition on this, as Assembly spokesman Mike Whyland points out on Twitter. The survey showed 58 percent of those polled backed the entire 10-point plan.
The debate over the women’s agenda and its abortion plank meant to codify the Roe v. Wade ruling continues to have reverberations beyond the conclusion of the legislative session in June as groups within a coalition of women’s organizations push the Assembly to return to Albany.
Splitting from the group as been NARAL Pro-Choice New York, which has backed the Assembly’s approval of the full package.
Backing the full agenda in the Assembly is a bloc of Democratic women who had long championed many of the different pieces of the agenda and in part believe approving a “watered down” version of what they’ve negotiated without the abortion plank is unacceptable.
The Democratic assemblywomen have only grown in power in the wake of the Assemblyman Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal and the resulting criticism directed at Speaker Sheldon Silver for his handling. Women in the Assembly for now have largely supported Silver and in turn the speaker the women lawmakers are a vital bloc for him to keep his post.
In addition to the women’s agenda, the legislative session has seen multiple tests to the strength of the Senate coalition of Republicans and four independent Democrats. More >
Jun 28th - 11:56 am
From Liz’s Morning Memo:
The power of the SAFE Act backlash has not diminished over time. If anything, it has grown stronger among the small – yet vocal – minority of New Yorkers who were infuriated by its passage.
And even though it’s mostly Gov. Andrew Cuomo who has taken a hit at the polls due to his championing of this gun control measure, state lawmakers are not immune to the anger felt by gun rights advocates – a fact that could spell trouble for key legislators in next year’s elections.
A trio of senators got a rude awakening to the organizing abilities of the anti-SAFE Act movement during an event held in Buffalo yesterday afternoon.
Senate Co-Leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein traveled to Western New York to attend a policy event hosted by Sen. Mark Grisanti in the afternoon, and then headline a fund-raiser for the Buffalo Republican in the evening.
The afternoon event was supposed to focus on efforts in the Senate to help unemployed veterans, but it was hijacked by angry anti-SAFE Act protestors, who shouted down the senators when they tried – largely in vain – to stick to the scheduled program.
The protest was organized by the 2nd Amendment Coalition. The group’s leaders posted instructions on their Facebook page, urging members to get close to the senators to make sure they could be heard.
The Coalition says changes the Senate approved to the SAFE Act last week during the final days of the 2013 session left veterans out.
(The amendment itself addressed retired law enforcement officers, and also caused a split in the Senate GOP conference, with some members complaining about the timing of the vote, and others insisting they’re holding out for the pie-in-the-sky goal of full repeal).
One leader of the 2nd Amendment Coalition just so happens to be Rus Thompson, a controversial Tea Party figure who worked on Carl Paladino’s failed 2010 gubernatorial bid.
During a recent CapTon interview, Paladino made it clear that while he’s not planning on running again next year, he will use his political action committee to try to influence the balance of power in the Senate in hopes of toppling Skelos from his leadership role.
Grisanti will no doubt again be a target for Paladino. He’ll also be a target for the Senate Democrats, who are itching to win back the Democrat-dominated district the Democrat-turned-Republican lawmaker is currently representing.
Klein once had his eye on Grisanti as a potential member of the IDC. Apparently, both Skelos and Klein are willing to invest in trying to keep Grisanti where he is, regardless of whose conference he ends up joining – sort of a moot point, anyway, so long as the GOP-IDC coalition survives.
Grisanti also received some pressure from the left yesterday, compliments of campaign finance reform advocates who were angry he joined his fellow Republicans in voting down a hostile amendment that would have established a publicly financed system.
Mindful of the fact that the conservative grassroots is still smarting from the same-sex marriage vote two years ago, and steaming over the SAFE Act passage, the Senate Republicans drew a line in the sand over the abortion plank of the governor’s Women’s Equality Agenda and also refused to budget on campaign finance reform.
They may have played right into the governor’s hands, however, enabling him – not to mention the Senate Democrats – to keep two potent progressive issues alive heading into a key election year.
Conservatives insist anger over the SAFE Act could fuel even a no-name recognition challenger to Cuomo like Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin. But so far, it looks like the Senate Republicans have more to worry about than the governor does.
Jun 27th - 12:40 pm
ICYMI: Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein are reuniting for what I believe is the first time since last week’s marathon end-of-session all-nighter in Western New York to attend a pair of events to boost Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti.
The trio will first appear at aveterans benefits presentation highlighting legislation passed and proposed in the Senate this past year. According to Grisanti’s website, the event will focus on benefits for veterans, and what the Legislature has done to bring down such high veteran unemployment rates.
Later tonight, Skelos and Klein will headline a fund-raiser for Grisanti at Buffalo’s famed Chop House restaurant on Franklin Street.
The event has drawn the ire of campaign finance reform advocates, who have dubbed Grisanti an “enemy of reform” (props to the late Ed Koch are necessary here) for refusing to break with his fellow Republicans in their collective “no” vote on the hostile amendment offered by the Democrats that would have created a public campaign finance system.
To the surprise of many observers – and even the advocates themselves – Klein and his three fellow IDCers voted along with their former Democratic colleagues on the amendment. But three Democrats – Sens. Ruben Diaz Sr., former IDC member Malcolm Smith and Simcha Felder – voted “no” on the question of whether the amendment was germane. (It was attached to Sen. Marty Golden’s bill allowing NYC to return to the old lever machines for the upcoming citywide elections).
Members of the Fair Elections coalition – including Citizen Action of New York and the Sierra Club – will be protesting outside the Chop House tonight to express their disappointment with Grisanti. The goal, according to a press release, is to demonstrate that the coalition remains active and intends to do so through the 2014 campaign season.
“Fair Elections for New York is coming off an intense six-month campaign that has built the largest grassroots movement for election reform that this state has ever seen,” the release states.
“Comprehensive reform with public funding at its core would restore New York’s democratic integrity and make state lawmakers more accountable and responsive to ordinary voters. This protest will show that our campaign will continue until either real reform is passed or until voters elect Senators who will put the people back in charge of our elections.”
Grisanti, a former Democrat himself, represents one of the most Democrat-dominated districts in the state. He has been a top target of the Senate Democrats, though, given the vagaries of Western New York politics (in which Democrats can often be mistaken for conservatives), they were unable to make much headway last year.
It’s notable that Klein has agreed to assist a Republican – granted, one who was considered a potential IDC joiner at one point – in raising political cash. It was not too long ago, after all, that Klein abruptly pulled out of a fund-raiser he was supposed to co-headline with Skelos to benefit the Manhattan GOP back in March after this blog reported on the event.
Apparently after surviving his first Senate as a Republican co-conspirator (at least in the eyes of his old “regular” Democratic colleagues and their allies), Klein no longer has any reservations about doing what’s necessary to help his GOP friends retain their seats.
And the Republicans plan on returning the favor, according to Senate Deputy GOP Leader Tom Libous, who has repeatedly pledged to assist the IDC members – even financially, if necessary – if they face primary challenges from the left next fall.
Jun 21st - 6:33 pm
Unlike other measures, there was no way to compromise with his Senate Republican partners when it came to abortion, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein today said in an interview.
The Bronx Democrat and co-president the Senate sought to move the question on abortion today by adding the stand-alone bill as a hostile amendment.
The measure failed a procedural vote, with 32 lawmakers — including Sen. Ruben Diaz, a member of the Democratic conference, and Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who sits with Republicans — voted down the measure.
Klein told me moments after the amendment failed that the model of coalition government — with the IDC and Republicans compromising and agreeing on issues — didn’t work when it came to the abortion issue.
“Those in the IDC, the four of us are all pro choice. We wanted to make sure that right continues here in New York,” he said. ”It was important for us to make a statement, to break with our Republican colleagues and attempt to pass this amendment on the floor today and unfortunately it failed.”
I asked Klein if this episode has essentially broken the coalition.
“The coalition was always about issues, about raising issues that are important for New Yorkers and trying to come together through compromise and negotiation,” Klein said. ”There was no way to do that in this instance. Unfortunately the Republican conference was not willing to vote for this amendment. They were not willing to vote for the bill in chief. So I think we have to get back to the drawing board and start fighting for this again.”
Though the measure failed, Klein said it was important the measure make a statement.
His conference had been singled out by advocates and even Gov. Andrew Cuomo for blocking the abortion provision in the Senate. Cuomo and the women’s coalition assembled to back the agenda had called for an up or down vote on the bill, while Klein and the IDC maintained that the votes didn’t exist.
“It was important for us to make a statement to show whose pro-choice and whose not. It’s unfortunate that we lack one vote to make this a reality.,” he said. ”It’s unfortunate also that I think the Republican conference sent a message. They are not pro-choice. They are right to life.”
Whether this diffuses the abortion issue as a political matter is another issue.
Advocates for abortion rights had pledged to score any vote on the measure — including procedural votes on hostile amendments — as a key abortion rights vote.
Klein didn’t want to declare abortion a political one, but did say he hopes to find more Republican lawmakers in the Senate who are in favor of abortion rights.
“I think we can achieve it, I think it can be a tough fight, but I think we can fight the votes in the months ahead,” he said.
Jun 21st - 4:55 pm
IDC Leader Jeff Klein just launched a last-ditch attempt to get the abortion piece of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act to the floor, only to be shot down when 32 senators – 30 Republicans and two Democrats – voted to block him.
Not long after the Senate finally gaveled into session after a delay of just over six hours (session was supposed to start at 10 a.m.), Klein announced that an amendment had been submitted and asked that it be read. Presiding over the chamber was another IDC member (and Klein’s girlfriend), Sen. Diane Savino, who ruled that the amendment – the abortion rights plank of Cuomo’s 10-point act – was indeed germane.
Savino’s ruling was challenged by Sen. Tom Libous, the deputy leader for the Republican conference, and he insisted on a show of hands – not merely a voice vote, as requested by Savino.
UPDATE1: A source who was in the chamber for the vote tells me it wasn’t Libous who asked for a show of hands, but rather Sens. Mike Gianaris and Klein himself, who issued the call almost simultaneously and then shared a thumbs-up, much to the amusement of their colleagues. (Because, as you know these two are longtime rivals and allegedly can’t stand one another).
I was following the debate on the Senate’s live feed, and was unable to count hands. But it’s a safe bet that one of the Democratic “no” votes came from Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a conservative who conferences with the GOP. The other was definitely cast by Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who spoke passionately on the floor in opposition to the amendment.
It is well known that Diaz Sr., a Bronx Democrat and Pentecostal minister, is anti-abortion. During his speech, he echoed a familiar argument from the right – that New York is the “abortion capital” of the nation – and said rates are particularly high in black and Latino neighborhoods. Diaz Sr. accused abortion providers of “making money” off low-income women of color.
For the record, Diaz Sr. also voted “no” on a hostile amendment submitted early this morning by members of his own conference who sought to force a vote on campaign finance reform.
Recall that Cuomo has been calling for an up-or-down vote on all ten pieces of the Women’s Equality Act in the Senate, so voters can be sure where their respective lawmakers stand – especially when it comes to the question of choice. The governor also said that refusing to vote on the abortion bill would be, in his eyes, tantamount to voting “no” outright.
So, prepare for this hostile amendment vote to be used in a political fashion by abortion rights advocates who are eager to pin the blame on someone for the death of the Women’s Equality Agenda (most likely the Senate Republicans). It remains to be seen whether they’ll be satisfied with Klein’s effort today, since they’ve been pushing him for weeks now to use his leverage as co-leader of the Senate to get the bill to the floor for a full-house vote.
UPDATE2: Klein’s amendment did not pass muster with NARAL Pro-Choice/NY, whose president, Andrea Miller, issued this statement:
“The people of New York of State deserve a vote on legislation codifying Roe v. Wade. The IDC has so far failed to produce such a vote. What transpired on the floor via hostile amendment was a feeble attempt by the IDC to deflect attention from its failure in recent weeks to stand up for the women of New York and the Governor’s 10 pt Women’s Equality Act.”
And Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins released the following statement shortly after Klein’s amendment failed:
“One would believe that in 2013 there were not enough Senators willing to vote to protect the health and equality of women.”
“In 1970, when choice was first passed in New York, 12 Republican Senators joined a majority of their Democratic colleagues to support this landmark legislation. In our state, women’s health has never been a Republican or Democratic issue. I find it shocking that 43 years later not one Senate Republican stood up for women’s equality.”
Jun 20th - 3:24 pm
After mainline Democrats in the Senate declined to consider signing on to her abortion bill, IDC Sen. Diane Savino accused Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins of wanting the effort to fail in order to prove a political point.
“I sincerely think she wants us to fail so maybe she won’t feel so guilty about the fact that she’s never been able to pass this bill in all the years she’s been carrying it,” Savino said in an interview.
Savino and the independent conference today circulated a letter seeking co-sponsors for the abortion provision broken out of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s women’s agenda.
The coalition-led Senate is expected to vote on nine of the 10 bills in the women’s agenda, but not the abortion piece.
The failure to take up abortion is being blamed, in part, on the IDC, which is in a governing coalition with the Senate Republicans.
The mainline Democrats declined to sign on to the bill, saying what’s more preferable is a vote to demonstrate where individual lawmakers stand on the issue.
“Instead of getting the response that I thought I would get from the people who claim to be pro-choice I got a political response that doesn’t even make any sesne to me,” Savino said. “So now the question is who’s really pro-choice? Who’s playing politics with this?”
Savino accused Stewart-Cousins of making excuses for failing to move previous abortion legislation such as the Reproductive Health Act, which Cuomo had initially said in his State of the State address in January that he was going to introduce, but ended up backing what supporters call a codification of Roe v. Wade.
“In fact she can’t even get her own conference to co-sponsor her bill and now she’s asking people not to co-sponsor the governor’s bill. I don’t understand it,” she said.
She added, “It’s time to stop playing politics and we really need to get this bill to the floor and we really need to know who is pro-choice and one of the ways you demonstrate that is you put your name on the bill.”
Update: Senate Democratic Conference spokesman Mike Murphy weighed in.
“Nothing has changed,” he said. “The Senate Democratic Conference demands a vote on all ten points of the Women’s Equality Agenda. Women’s health and equality should not be a Democratic or Republican issue.”