In Winter 2017, I was one of 10 residents that made up a small contingent of local activists who met face-to-face with our local Democratic state senator, Jeffrey Klein. As one of the founders of Northwest Bronx Indivisible, I was happy to sit with our very influential senator to solicit help to advocate for the New York Health Act.
To my chagrin, this frustrating meeting was the basis upon which I formed an opinion that we needed to support a candidate to run against Jeffrey Klein.
My shift in opinion was long in coming. For many years, I was a firm and happy Klein voter. After all, wasn’t Albany a den of corruption, dysfunction, gridlock and Democratic corruption? Albany was just a place where progressive dreams went to die. Our state senator was our progressive fighter.
Little did I know that the dreams died at the hands of Sen. Klein, who had joined with Republicans and Gov. Cuomo to forestall most important pieces of progressive legislation. However, for the purposes of this story, the politics is not really what turned me sour. It was Klein’s overall outlook and his actions that turned me off to him.
In our February meeting, we discussed the substance of the issues with the New York Health Act. He seemed to have come prepared as he had studied the issues and seemed to be genuinely interested. We were there to persuade him to play a leadership role.
At a key juncture, one of our members made a plea for him to champion the legislation and let him know we need real Democrats at the table. What did he think? Then he uttered what no politician serving his constituents should ever utter aloud. He said, “What about me?”
He then went on to tell us about his own situation, his needs and what was at stake for him. He boasted about the Independent Democratic Conference as a tool to pass truly progressive legislation like “raise the age” and the $15 minimum wage. He tooted his own horn, and predicted his conference would grow and that he would not rejoin the mainline Democratic caucus.
He seemed to relish his power and leadership role and place at the budget table. Why should he go back? “What about me?” kept coming up!
This is the attitude and behavior he and his staff showed us in the months that followed. It was about him — a one-way street. We do the work, he hedges and stalls, and claims victory. Or worse, dashes our hopes.
The result of this meeting was that he promised us five things. These were “promises” he offered — we did not push him. The most significant of these was that he would try hard to get historic hearings on the New York Health Act in the senate. He would also reach out to us and come give us updates on his progress.
The only promise kept by him or his office was that he gave us a list of key legislators to reach out to.
That was it. In the end, we received nothing. It was a tale of two cities: Albany and Riverdale. In Riverdale, he was a co-sponsor and making an effort to set up hearings. In Albany, he was absent from both the Democratic and Republican leadership on this issue.
On the last day, I sent him a very long impassioned letter and encouraged him to reply. To this day, my honest open letter has gone unanswered. This is the real Jeff Klein. It’s always about what’s in it for him.
We deserve, and can have, more.
Vote Alessandra Biaggi on Sept. 13, and retire Sen. Jeff Klein.
The author is co-founder of Northwest Bronx Indivisible.