State Senate

Stewart-Cousins Designated Majority Leader For Senate

Democratic Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Monday was formally designated the next majority leader in the state Senate by her colleagues in a conference that could have as many as 40 members at the start of the new year.

Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, will return as the number two lawmaker in the conference and serve as deputy majority leader. Sen. Jose Serrano of the Bronx will serve as conference chairman.

There’s still some sorting out to do, including the naming of committee chairs and the question of whether Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who is aligned with Republicans, will join the majority.

But the meeting of Democrats in Albany was a chance not just to take stock of next year, but make some history.

“This is a proud moment for me,” Stewart-Cousins said at a news conference shortly after the vote. “It’s certainly a moment that when I first came here I don’t think I ever dreamed of.”

The majority leader post in the state Senate is one of the most powerful positions in state government, holding sway over jobs, which bills come to the floor for a vote and a say in the budget talks.

Still, there are challenges.

She will lead one of the largest legislative majorities in the state Senate in decades, with members representing a range of constituencies from western New York to eastern Long Island.

Democrats have a full plate of long-sought legislative measures, including election reforms, the public financing of campaigns, the DREAM Act, gun control and a bolstering of abortion rights.

Potentially nettlesome issues include a single-payer health care measure several Democratic candidates campaigned on in support of, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been publicly cool toward. Asked about the bill on Monday in Albany, Stewart-Cousins said that issue, along with an extension of tax rates for upper income earners due to expire next year, is yet to be fully fleshed out by the conference.

“We’re not expecting collisions,” she said. “we’re expecting the opportunity to try and figure out the best way forward on these important issues to New Yorkers.”

And Stewart-Cousins will have a seat in the budget negotiations with Cuomo as well as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“New York is an incredible place — 20 million people. So much diversity,” she said. “Women uphold half of this state. The fact that there has never been a woman in the room was troubling.”

A working Democratic majority was not always a given.

The party had been out of power in the Senate for a decade following a disastrous two-year stint in control that was marred by a legislative coup. All of the previous leaders of the conference are virtually out of office and some are serving time in prison for corruption.

But the damage from the dysfunction was done, with five lawmakers splitting into a faction called the Independent Democratic Conference, which aligned with Republicans, allowing the GOP to maintain control even when they were outnumbered by Democrats.

The election of President Donald Trump, however, changed that arrangement.

The IDC dissolved earlier this year amid political pressure from Democratic activists and Cuomo, who had been accused of preferring the IDC-GOP alignment. All but two former members of the IDC won their primary challenges this year.

“I think we’re going to work well,” said Sen. David Carlucci, a former member of the IDC. “We’ve had more representation upstate and the suburbs than we’ve had before. It’s a conference that doesn’t just represent one part of the state, but the entire state.”

Peralta GoFundMe Campaign Hits Goal

From the Morning Memo:

The death of Democratic state Sen. Jose Peralta last week at 47 brought a sad coda to the end of the year in New York politics and for that of his family.

But those who knew Peralta came to provide some help.

A GoFundMe campaign quickly reached its goal on Sunday of raising $25,000 to help Peralta’s family cover memorial service and visitation expenses. As of Monday morning, the effort has raised $34,360.

And who gave, too, is a sign that even the rough and tumble of the New York political world can be put on hold for a family in need.

Peralta was a member of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference, a bloc of Democrats who had allied themselves with Republicans in the state Senate. The IDC dissolved earlier this year, but six of its eight former members lost their primary bids, including Peralta.

The fight over the IDC, stretching over the balance of the decade, was one of the more heated and politically fraught ones in state politics.

All that was set aside for the day.

In addition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $10,000 contribution, the GoFundMe campaign received donations from IDC critics like Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell. Republican Marc Molinaro, the GOP nominee for governor, also gave, as did Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is likely to become the next majority leader in the Senate.

The Parkside Group, the firm associated with the mainline conference of Democrats, also donated.

There were countless others, including Peralta’s former colleagues in the IDC and staffers who were on both sides of the fight.

Mario Cuomo would often talk about the “family of New York.” It can often resemble a dysfunctional family.

But for a day, the things can divide New York can be set aside.

Stewart-Cousins Poised To Become Majority Leader

From the Morning Memo:

Democrats in the state Senate meet today for what, on paper, will be a pro forma exercise: Formally electing a leader for the 2019-20 session of the Legislature.

But expected support for Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins will be history making. When the full Legislature convenes in January, she will be the first woman to lead a legislative majority in Albany. She was woman of color to lead a legislative conference in Albany when her colleagues elected her leader to replace John Sampson in 2012.

For Stewart-Cousins, it was a winding road. She narrowly lost her first bid for the state Senate in 2004, facing the longtime Republican incumbent Nick Spano that year. Two years later, she won the rematch race.

Stewart-Cousins will be the first woman in “the room” — Albany parlance for the top-level leaders meeting with the governor and Assembly speaker, giving her a voice in the state budget negotiations and the final shaping of legislation.

She’ll be entering the majority leader’s office with a conference of up to 40 members in the 63-seat Senate, a large advantage that is expected to lead to the quick passage of measures long sought by Democrats in New York, including the DREAM Act, voting reforms and a strengthening of abortion rights.

But it is also expected to come with challenges. The conference is a diverse one, with members from western New York, upstate cities, the Hudson Valley, suburban Long Island and the five boroughs.

Unity hasn’t been easy for Democrats to achieve in the past, though the conference’s leaders have long asserted the dysfunction that plagued the 2009-10 majority is gone.

Stewart-Cousins herself was elected leader six years ago in part because of her district’s geography: A large downstate city with suburban concerns, bordering New York City but not in New York City. It’s a balance Stewart-Cousins has said she knows she has to maintain.

Cuomo Donates $10K To Peralta Family Go Fund Me

Supporters of the late Sen. Jose Peralta this weekend set up a GoFundMe page to help offset expenses for his family.

One prominent donor so far: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who gave $10,000. The effort is aimed at helping the family cover funeral expenses as well as visitation services.

“Senator Peralta dedicated his life to serving New Yorkers, and the family of New York will come together to ensure he receives a fitting memorial,” Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday.‎ “As we continue to mourn his sudden passing, Senator Peralta’s family and loved ones remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

Peralta, a Queens Democrat, died on Wednesday evening unexpectedly at 47. Peralta, a prominent supporter of the DREAM Act in the state Senate, was the first Dominican-American elected to the chamber.

He lost his Democratic primary in September to Jessica Ramos.

Jose Peralta Dies At 47

Queens Sen. Jose Peralta on Wednesday died unexpectedly, lawmakers said Thursday morning.

Peralta, a former member of the Independent Democratic Conference, was the first Dominican-American elected to the state Senate in 2010, followed closely by Democrat Adriano t, who is now in the House of Representatives.

“This news is truly shocking and heartbreaking,” said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the incoming majority leader in the state Senate. “My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends. He will always be part of the Senate family.”

Peralta had lost his Democratic primary earlier this year to Jessica Ramos.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the friends, family, and colleagues of Senator Jose Peralta, whose sudden and unexpected passing is a shock to us all,” said Sen. John Flanagan, the GOP leader.

“Senator Peralta was a passionate advocate for the issues he believed in and fought for, and was a dedicated public servant for his beloved Queens.”

Gianaris Cheers Sanders Opposition To Amazon Tax Breaks

Sen. Mike Gianaris praised U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s critique on Wednesday to the $3 billion in tax incentives tied to Amazon bringing 40,000 jobs to its new headquarters in Long Island City.

Sanders, who is considering a second bid for the presidency, wrote on Facebook that such arrangements for companies to be attracted to states with massive incentive packages must end.

“This is what the rigged economy is all about,” Sanders wrote. “The rich get richer, and everyone else becomes poorer.”

Gianaris is a Queens Democrats who has been sharply critical of the deal with New York and Amazon. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has defended the proposal, arguing it will ultimately not cost New York anything given the economic activity and revenue the influx of jobs to Queens will bring.

“Bernie Sanders is a proven champion for working people and his support in this fight is critical. Amazon does not need $3 billion in subsidies, which can be better spent on real needs in our community,” Gianaris said. “The fight continues!”

Golden Concedes To Gounardes

Republican Sen. Marty Golden on Monday conceded his race to Democrat Andrew Gounardes nearly two weeks after Election Day.

The Brooklyn Senate district is one Democrats have long eyed for a potential flip. The party will have as many as 40 members in the 2019 legislative session in the 63-seat Senate.

“Although we came up just short this election, I am grateful my career in public service has been full of much success as a police officer and as an elected official,” Golden said. “As I think of the future, my supporters, neighbors and friends can be sure that I will still always look for opportunities to make our neighborhoods an even better place to live, work and raise a family.”

Gounardes had previously challenged Golden in 2016. In a statement, Gounardes said he wanted to tackle health care and transit issues.

“In the days since the election, my team and I have worked closely with Democratic leadership and my colleagues in the State Senate to ensure that I’m ready to hit the ground running,” he said. “I look forward to coordinating with Senator Golden on a smooth transition between now and January so that our community can come together and move forward.”

Felder Wants NYC Voting Reforms

From the Morning Memo:

Sen. Simcha Felder late last week introduced legislation meant to change how New York City votes after sustained problems at the polls over the last several Election Days.

The measure would, where allowed, change New York City voting machines, create a mobile unit of voting technicians to make fixes and provide better training for poll workers.

“It is clear from this November’s election that changes are desperately needed to help citizens vote in New York City,” Felder said. “This legislation ensures that New Yorkers who show up to the polls are not met with broken machines and long lines.”

Felder wants voting machines with touchscreen technology that would also provide a voter with a paper record after casting a ballot.

Poll worker training and the mobile technician unit would work to alleviate any problems with machines on Election Day as they arise.

Voters in New York City this month complained of long lines at the polls and machines that were malfunctioning.

Democrats in the state Senate, poised to take the majority in January, are planning a package of election reforms that include same-day registration as well as early voting and other measures.

Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who conferences with Republicans in the state Senate, has not given any indication which side of the aisle he will sit on in come 2019.

Flanagan To Remain Republican Leader

Sen. John Flanagan will remain the leader of the Republican conference in the state Senate as the conference will move to the minority for the first time since 2009.

Flanagan received 14 votes, with nine members backing Sen. Cathy Young, a western New York lawmaker who led the conference’s political fundraising efforts.

Republicans lost eight seats this month and could have as few as 23 members in the 63-member chamber next year.

“Right now we’re at a pivotal moment and we need to make adjustments to how we go along,” Young said after the vote. “We all need to work together. We need to unify behind each other because we certainly have some very challenging times ahead.”

The vote was preceded by a debate among Republicans over whether there is a need to have an upstate lawmaker lead the conference after a decade of a Long Island member at the top post. Flanagan, who gained the backing of both upstate members and his two fellow Long Islanders in the GOP conference, insisted he would be able to work as a statewide leader.

“I don’t mince my words. If I think the governor is doing something great, I’ll say so,” Flanagan said. “But I’m scared to death what’s coming.”

With Democrats holding large majorities in the state Senate and the Assembly, lawmakers are expected next year to push for a variety of measures, including single-payer health care, tax increases on the rich and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants — proposals Republicans have campaigned against.

“The governor owns this. He’s all in on all of this,” Flanagan said. “I will match my ability to articulate our positions with anybody.”

Senate GOP To Decide Future Of Conference

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Republicans will meet today to determine the future course of its conference as they prepare for life in the minority: Either keep John Flanagan leader or go potentially with an upstate member like Sen. Cathy Young.

Flanagan is seeking re-election with a smaller and far more diminished GOP bloc in the state Senate after the party lost key races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley on Election Day.

Young has the public backing of a handful of upstate legislators who did not back Flanagan’s first push for majority leader in 2015, when he replaced the scandal-scarred Dean Skelos.

Republicans haven’t had an upstate resident lead them since Sen. Joe Bruno’s tenure, which ended in 2008.

Conservatives have chafed at the leadership of Long Island Republicans, which they allege has created a relationship with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo far too amenable on issues like spending, taxes, the minimum wage and gun control.

But Cuomo’s relationship with Senate Republicans in the last several years has soured as Democrats appeared likely to gain a working majority in the chamber and the governor faced pressure from liberals to help the party gain power.

Nevertheless, Flanagan could still be re-elected leader later today. He has the backing of Sen. Fred Akshar, a Binghamton Republican who had been considered a potential successor.