If it felt more like a political rally than an informational forum at times, it’s probably because the more than 225 people gathered at Lehman College’s music building last weekend have become focused on a single goal: Get rid of the Independent Democratic Conference.
There’s probably no one who would like to accomplish that more than state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins who feels if it weren’t for the eight senators led by Jeff Klein breaking away from the Democrats, she’d be the majority leader in the state senate.
“We are talking about health care, se are talking about single-payer, and the IDC, they say they’re for it,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Why can’t we do it? Because the policy-making branch is Republican. It is a Republican they have put in charge of health care, who will not allow that to come out.”
Despite a split in political alignment of the state senate that, save for one Brooklyn lawmaker, would favor Democrats, the eight members of the IDC choose instead to caucus with the Republicans. That allows Republicans to set policy in the senate, to fill leadership positions, and gives IDC members like Klein power, Stewart-Cousins said.
Sunday’s rally was put together by IDC Action Group, a political advocacy arm of NY CD16 Indivisible — itself a byproduct of Donald Trump’s election to the White House last November. Indivisible maintains that while voters elected senators like Klein, Marisol Alcantara and Jose Peralta as Democrats, they instead were “trumped,” because these senators don’t support progressive legislation like the rest of the party.
That has left measures like universal health care, criminal justice reform and especially landlord/tenant reform in the waste bin as measures that have passed the Democratically controlled Assembly, but have not even earned a hearing on the senate floor.
Klein “gets an incredible amount of real estate money,” said Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, which supports pro-tenant positions in Albany. Countering that is hard, because absent their own rich donors, those fighting against giving landlords more rights in real estate have to counter with blood and sweat.
“When it comes to actually doing the nitty-gritty work, people don’t get involved,” McKee said. “Or, at least, not enough people get involved. I’m always saying to tenants, ‘You have got to get involved in elections.’ We can’t change things unless we elect better people, unless we take some of these people out.”
The continued existence of the IDC doesn’t just fall on Klein and the voters who continually cast ballots to keep them in office. Another culprit that doesn’t get a lot of blame about the continuing power of the IDC, according to some at the forum, sits behind the biggest desk in Albany — Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“We have to be honest with ourselves about where the power beyond this lies,” said Zephyr Teachout, an associate law professor at Fordham University who once unsuccessfully challenged Cuomo for the governor’s mansion.
“He has this real behind-the-scenes power, and he could choose to call up Jeff Klein and say, ‘Absolutely no more,’” she said. “And if you don’t do something about it, we collectively are going to do something about it.”
Cuomo, Teachout said, has taken both sides when it comes to IDC. At some points, he praises lawmakers for not subjecting themselves to the national two-party system. But more recently, especially since the election of Trump, Cuomo has skirted over to the other side, saying it might be time for the IDC to rejoin with the Democrats.
But why would Cuomo want to undermine his own work in Albany by splitting the upper and lower chambers? It’s simple, Teachout said. Cuomo wants to run for president.
“This is Shakespearean genius, but it seems that he wants to be in a position where he can say that ‘it wasn’t me,’” Teachout said. “’It wasn’t me that we didn’t pass the New York Health Act. It wasn’t me that we didn’t do anything about voting. It wasn’t me that we were not dealing with the inequality in our system. It is those Republicans.’
“It’s just that he has helped create those Republicans, and put them in power.”
Klein nor any of his IDC members were invited to attend the weekend forum, but the senator told The Riverdale Press in a statement last week that he wouldn’t have come anyway.
“While Sen. Stewart-Cousins will be outside of her district promoting Democratic disunity, I will be busy in my district honoring the local veterans who bravely fought for our country’s freedoms,” Klein said.
Even with voters knowing they won’t side with Democrats, the eight members are re-elected time and again to serve additional terms. That has made the IDC feel almost impenetrable by groups like IDC Action. But Andrew Mutnick, the political organization’s co-leader, said if there’s anything that should have Klein and the rest of the IDC worried, it’s the Democratic victories at the ballot box earlier this month.
“It’s all going to happen at the polling place,” he said. “Look at what happened last Tuesday. That is just going to happen again, if we keep up the pressure.
“Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world. We just need to continue to lead, and to educate.”
CORRECTION: The IDC Action Group meeting at Lehman College discussing how to respond to the Independent Democratic Conference in the state senate attracted more than 220 people. A story in the Nov. 16 issue gave a different number.