Brian Benjamin is not exactly a household name. At least not in this part of the Bronx.
But the affordable housing developer is quite popular in Harlem, so much so that voters overwhelmingly elected him to the state senate last week, filling a seat that previously belonged to new city councilman Bill Perkins.
The election essentially gave Democrats something they haven’t really had since 2012 — a numerical majority.
Yet, the Democrats will never see that majority, at least not this term, or probably anytime soon. The first obstacle, of course, is Brooklyn senator Simcha Felder who runs as a Democrat but is so Republican, he actually caucuses with the GOP.
The other barrier has it’s own three-letter initials: IDC. The Independent Democratic Conference — eight senators, including our local representative Jeffrey Klein, who broke away from the Democratic party — also has caucused with the Republicans since its 2011 beginning.
What could be just a single-vote gap in the senate is instead a much wider nine-vote canyon.
It literally moves Republicans from a slim 52 percent majority, to a massive 65 percent advantage.
As the IDC’s leader and founder, Klein is the epicenter of this political earthquake and has taken tremendous heat for it over the years.
But the flames against the IDC appear to burn even brighter than ever before, not just because of how close the Democrats are to once again securing the state senate, but also the November election of Donald Trump that’s forced the Party of Roosevelt to regroup.
The same time Benjamin was celebrating his victory, Klein and the IDC tried to prove its allegiance to progressive beliefs, asking senate Democrats to sign a unity pledge to help support a range of issues like single-payer health care, abortion rights and massive campaign finance reform by making state elections publicly funded.
Democrats, however, responded they already were for these things — it was the IDC’s Republican cohort that weren’t. For Democrats, this unity pledge was nothing more than empty grandstanding, and maybe it is.
The fact is, however, that the IDC serves as a distraction not just to the legislative process in Albany, but also to many of its members, including Klein. Whether his opponents want to believe it or not, he’s done a lot of good representing his constituents, even if his breakaway conference is readily blamed for an overall progressive stall at the capital.
Klein has called for unity, but that would actually call for something a little more expansive: reunification.
Sure, that won’t give Democrats the power they need in the state senate. But with the election of Brian Benjamin, it could be a big step in the right direction if IDC members genuinely want a progressive agenda to succeed.