State Senate

Senate Dems Hope For Smooth Transition For IDC

The first tangible evidence the Independent Democratic Conference is dissolving will be seen Monday, when lawmakers are back at the Capitol, and the mainline conference formally moves to bring the eight IDC lawmakers into their fold.

This will be done in the form a “hand up” in the state Senate — a non-voting procedural move that will recognize the new members of the conference, said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview Friday.

“Obviously I think it will be a transition period,” she said, “but I’m trying to really minimize upheaval. I think you’re going to see a whole lot of repositioning, there will be some, but not a whole lot. and we’re all there to serve the people of New York and I think New Yorkers are going to be better off with us together.”

The conferences would blend right away, however. The mainline conference and the IDC will huddle separately on Monday, but Stewart-Cousins plans to meet with both.

“This will be the first time Monday where we will all have the opportunity to sit together and what I want to be able to do is set the tone and just kind of lay the groundwork for what will be a new conference after the various procedures,” she said of her conference, which she has led since 2012. “I’m also going to meet with the other conference on Monday as well after session, so I want to be able to talk to them and lay the groundwork for what will be an integrated conference after the procedures.”

The merger of the two conferences was announced last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as Democrats work to take full control of the Senate, potentially by the end of this month after two vacant seats are filled in special elections scheduled for April 24.

After those elections are held, and assuming Democrats win both seats, the party would have a numeric majority in the chamber. The focus would turn to Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who conferences with Republicans in the chamber, and have him switch sides.

Stewart-Cousins said in the interview that she had spoke to Felder recently, but he has not committed either way.

“I’ve had a very good and cordial relationship with Sen. Felder over the years and of course I’ve reached out to him and reiterated how it would be a good thing for him to be part of our conference,” she said. “He hasn’t said he won’t be, he hasn’t said he would be. But we are talking and I think he is looking forward to a resolution.”

The winding down of the IDC completely is expected to nevertheless take time. Conference lawmakers on Thursday held a fundraiser, attended by Cuomo and Shelley Mayer, a Democrat running in Westchester County’s 37th Senate district, as well as Luis Sepulveda, who is running for a Bronx seat. IDC lawmakers face primary challenges that are being backed by the Working Families Party, which will continue on despite the unity agreement.

Stewart-Cousins insisted the fundraiser was not a sign that the IDC was remaining an independent entity.

“The IDC had planned this a while ago before they became a former IDC. Sen. Klein and I had that conversation,” Stewart-Cousins said. “He’s got commitment, I have a commitment, that we’re going to be one conference under the Senate Democrats, period. The things they have planned before, they did. But as far as what’s going to happen on the future, we’re embarking on a journey as Democrats and there’s not going to be any separation and be Democrats in one conference. We’re on to another chapter.”

But beyond the political and bureaucratic considerations of the IDC’s dissolution, there are the personality issues. Klein, who will become Stewart-Cousins’s deputy, has clashed with the current deputy leader, Sen. Mike Gianaris.

“We should be focused on how best we can represent the people of New York state,” she said. “The personalities, as I’ve always said, should be put aside. We’ve been trying for this moment for years and here we are.”

And then there’s the allegation leveled by a former staffer that Klein forcibly kissed her in 2015, a claim the Bronx lawmaker denies and has called for an investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

“Any allegations like this are something I take seriously and we all should take seriously,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Both Sen. Klein and I have called for an investigation and that’s happening and we’ll let that take its course.”

Republicans Want Opioid Tax Revenue In A ‘Lock Box’

From the Morning Memo:

Republicans are pushing to have the revenue from a tax on pharmaceutical companies be put into a dedicated fund to combat opioid and heroin addiction.

The tax was approved as part of the state budget agreement and is expected to generate $100 million. The provision was proposed as a way to raise revenue to fight addiction.

But Republicans, including Sen. Terrence Murphy and 37th Senate district candidate Julie Killian, believe the money needs to be transferred to a so-called “lock box” to ensure the funding will go to fight addiction and pay for treatment.

“Albany cannot be allowed to play games with funding meant to help fight the opioid epidemic,” said Murphy, a lawmaker who represents the northern New York City suburbs. “People are dying every single day and families are being torn apart by this epidemic.  We’re finally making the pharmaceutical companies pay the damage they have caused but we can’t let Albany’s sleight of hand tricks keep that money from helping the people it is intended to.”

Killian, who is running in a pivotal special election on April 24 to fill the district vacated by Westchester County Executive George Latimer, said the tax amounted to a “bait and switch” if the revenue isn’t sent to a dedicated and protected fund.

“To fix this problem, once elected, I will propose creating a lock box for the money that is raised by this surcharge to ensure that it goes directly to effective programs that help people and families who are suffering from addiction in addition to programs that are focused on addressing the root causes of addiction,” she said.

SD-37: Cuomo To Rally With Mayer

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be appearing this weekend with Democratic state Senate hopeful Shelley Mayer at a rally for her campaign in Mamaroneck.

Mayer is running in a key Senate district that could lead to a Democratic takeover of the Senate and a numeric 32-member majority.

“The next crucial step in taking our country back from President Trump and the extreme conservatives is just two weeks away,” said an invitation from the state Democratic Committee signed by Cuomo. ”
April 24. That’s the day our 2018 blue wave will reach its next peak as we elect Shelley Mayer as the 32nd Democrat in the state Senate, giving us the majority.”

Mayer faces Republican Julie Killian in the election, one of 11 seats in the Legislature being considered.

Cuomo has faced mounting pressure from liberal advocacy groups to help the party gain control of the chamber. Earlier this month, Cuomo announced the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference would dissolve in the Senate and rejoin the mainline conference.

The event with Mayer will be held at her headquarters and is part of a broader canvassing effort in the district.

“With your help, we will win on April 24 and from there build toward even bigger victories in November,” the invite states. “With your energy and participation we can not only build a strong working majority in the Senate, but also do our part to turn the U.S. House blue and put the breaks on Trumps runaway extremist agenda.”

Arena PAC Endorses 3 IDC Challengers

The Arena PAC, a political action committee that endorses left-of-center candidates, is backing three challengers to the members who once composed the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate.

The group announced Thursday it would endorse Democrats Jessica Ramos, Alessandra Biaggi and Zellnor Myrie.

Ramos is challenging Sen. Jose Peralta, Biaggi faces Sen. Jeff Klein and Myrie is challenging Sen. Jesse Hamilton.

“For years, members of the IDC pretended to be Democrats in their districts but acted like Republicans in Albany,” the group’s co-founder and managing partner.

“They banked on voters not paying attention as they blocked reforms in almost every area of policy: voting rights, reproductive rights, government reform and more. Now, under pressure, they are claiming to close up shop while continuing to raise money for their IDC campaign committee. Thankfully, a group of young and courageous candidates have stepped up to hold them accountable, and we are proud to support those challengers.”

The IDC announced earlier this month it would dissolve and its members would rejoin the Democratic conference in the state Senate, ahead of a broader push to give Democrats control of the chamber after a pair of seats are filled in an April 24 special election.

But the unity effort has done little to dampen the primary challenges former IDC members are expected to face later this year. The labor-aligned Working Families Party is continuing to back the challenges.

SD-37: In Ad, Killian Says She Backs Gun Control

Republican state Senate candidate Julie Killian in a TV ad released Tuesday endorsed “gun safety” measures, saying she would push for them if elected to serve in Albany.

Killian is running in the 37th Senate district in Westchester County in an April 24 special election against Democratic Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer. The race is a key contest with control of the state Senate potentially up for grabs as Democrats seek a working majority with 32 enrolled members.

In the ad, Killian adds she would fight corruption and seek to make the high-tax suburban county more affordable.

“These aren’t Republican or Democrat issues,” she said. “It’s just a matter of doing what’s right. Because we all know. It’s time for change.”

Republicans in the Senate last month agreed to a standalone bill that tightens laws against those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence of owning a firearm.

Senate GOP lawmakers since the passage of the SAFE Act have largely resisted efforts to pass new gun control measures, though pushes to repeal the law have faltered.

NY Forward Flexes For Dems In Special Elections

From the Morning Memo:

The independent expenditure spending over the last month has been largely dominated by the usual players: Committees funded by real estate or wealthy supporters of charter school expansion.

But NY Forward, a group that has received contributions from a committee with ties to the New York State United Teachers union, has started to increase its efforts on behalf of Democratic candidates running in the April 24 special election.

NY Forward last month reported a $468,744 from the group New Yorkers For A Brighter Future, which lists the same street address as NYSUT’s headquarters in suburban Albany.

The group this week spent $22,201 on a mail campaign boosting Democratic state Senate candidate Shelley Mayer, who is running in a key district in Westchester County.

At the same time, filings show that the group has also spent to bolster Democratic Assembly candidates, Patrick Burke and Cynthia Doran. Since March 30, NY Forward has spent $55,330 on direct mail efforts in those races.

In addition to the two high-profile Senate races, voters on April 24 will fill nine vacancies in the Democratic-dominated Assembly.

Burke is running for a western New York Assembly district, Doran is running for an open seat east of Albany.

SD-37: Killian Receives Law Enforcement Nods

From the Morning Memo:

Republican state Senate hopeful Julie Killian on Monday will announce a pair of endorsements from law enforcement organizations.

Killian, running in the key 37th Senate district in Westchester County, is being endorsed by the Detectives’ Endowment Association and the New York State Association of PBAs.

“Julie Killian is the kind of elected official we need in Albany. She is smart, principled, has strong local government experience and a long history of supporting law enforcement,” Michael J. Palladino, President, Detectives’ Endowment Association, Inc. said. “On behalf of the DEA, I am proud to endorse Julie Killian for the State Senate.”

Killian, a former Rye councilwoman, pointed to her backing of a bill that would classify mass shootings as domestic terrorism as well as funding for school districts to bolster security. Both measures faltered in the budget talks last month.

“Julie Killian is the kind of elected official we need in Albany. She is smart, principled, has strong local government experience and a long history of supporting law enforcement,” Michael J. Palladino, President, NYSAPBA and President, Detectives’ Endowment Association, Inc. said. “On behalf of the NYSAPBA, I am proud to endorse Julie Killian for the State Senate.”

Killian is running against Democratic Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer in the April 24 special election to fill the seat vacated by Westchester County Executive George Latimer. The seat, along with a Bronx Senate district, is central to a push by Democrats to gain a working majority in the chamber this month.

IDC Lawmakers Lose Committee Posts

The lawmakers of the Independent Democratic Conference have lost their committee chair posts as the IDC moves to disband and end its alignment with Senate Republicans.

The move, first reported by The Times Union on Friday, was confirmed by a GOP spokesman.

The development strips Sen. David Carlucci of his Consumer Protection committee chairmanship, Sen. Jesse Hamilton at Banks, Sen. Marisol Alcantara at Labor, and Sen. Tony Avella, who had been chair of Children and Families.

Under the agreement announced this week, Sen. Jeff Klein, the former leader of the IDC, is set to become the deputy Democratic leader under Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

It was not a wholly surprising development, but is the first tangible moment of fallout for the lawmakers who had comprised the breakaway conference returning to the minority fold.

Later on Friday, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan announced their replacements: Sen. Fred Akshar will serve as Chair of the Labor Committee; Sen. Chris Jacobs will serve as Chair of the Consumer Protection Committee; Sen. Elaine Phillips will serve as Chair of the Banks Committee; and Sen. Pam Helming will serve as Chair of the Children and Families Committee.

“Senators Akshar, Jacobs, Phillips, and Helming have enriched our conference with their years of public and private sector experiences and I know they share a commitment to helping hardworking New Yorkers succeed,” Flanagan said. “In these new roles, they will ensure we continue to move forward our legislative priorities and build on the progress we have already made to improve and strengthen the state.”

Stewart-Cousins: Important To Set The Right Tone

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a radio interview Friday said she was pushing for a smooth transition in re-integrating the members of the Independent Democratic Conference, saying it is important to set the right tone.

“Logistically, the most important thing is we’re working together,” Stewart-Cousins said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “How we do this is going to set the tone for how we govern and how we govern is going to be the real measure of what this is worth.”

IDC Leader Jeff Klein agreed to disband the conference, first formed in 2011, and rejoin Democrats in the mainline conference, putting an end to a seven-year schism for the party within the state Senate.

The reunification effort was engineered in part by Gov. Andrew Cuomo ahead of a broader push to give Democrats a working majority in the chamber, pending the outcome of two special elections to fill vacancies in the Senate.

After the election, the attention of the political world in New York will turn to Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who conferences with Republicans, and find ways to have him switch sides.

Stewart-Cousins lowered expectations, meanwhile, for a spring-time majority for Democrats and what they could accomplish with only 32 members in the 63-member Senate.

“I think that everyone realizes that if you are governing with exactly the number of people you need to govern, it is difficult,” she said. “Everybody understands that. Not only that, we have only three actual weeks until the end of the session.”

Stewart-Cousins said she is yet to speak with Felder, but has reached out to him this week.

“The real obstacle of having two separate conferences, kind of working at odds when in this environment we must be working together, is gone,” she said.

Unshackle Upstate Endorses Killian In SD-37

The business-backed Unshackle Upstate on Friday endorsed Republican Julie Killian in a pivotal state Senate race through its political action committee known as UPAC.

Killian is running for an open seat in Westchester County, one of two being decided in a special election scheduled for April 24.

“Westchester families are over-taxed and Westchester small businesses are overburdened by an archaic and anti-competitive regulatory structure. We’re supporting Julie Killian’s campaign because she’s a proven leader who will deliver relief to taxpayers and economic opportunity across the 37th District,” Greg Biryla, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, said.

“Julie will protect the property tax cap, deliver real mandate relief and create a better business climate that will benefit Westchester County and taxpayers across New York State. We need voices like Julie Killian’s in the State Senate and we encourage voters in the 37th Senate district to vote for Julie Killian on April 24th.”

Democratic Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer is also seeking the district vacated at the start of the year by George Latimer, who is now Westchester County executive.

The district is key to a push by Democrats to gain a working majority this month in the Senate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Democrats this week announced the Independent Democratic Conference would dissolve in an effort to unify lawmakers ahead of the push for the majority.