BY DONATHAN SALKALN (member, CRDC) | How does New York State — where Hillary Clinton took 59 percent of votes to Donald Trump’s 36.5 percent, and where it elected a Democratic Governor, a Democratic State Assembly, and a Democratic State Senate — still continue to turn its back on much needed Democratic legislation? The answer was detailed at the March 15 program “State Senate in Crisis: A Forum on the Independent Democratic Conference,” hosted by the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club (CRDC) at the Hudson Guild Elliott Center on W. 26th St.
A large crowd of local activists and elected officials were joined by Gus Christensen, chief strategist and Sami Koblah Disu, activist, of NO IDC NY. Their group has waged war against a rogue group of Democrats who caucus with Republicans in Albany. Also invited, but a no-show, was a staff member from State Senator Marisol Alcantara’s office. Alcantara is a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and represents a portion of Chelsea’s far west side that includes Elliott housing and the host’s facility. The program was moderated by CRDC’s Vice President, Brian Mangan.
“After 2010, we started to elect democratic majorities in New York’s State Senate,” said Gus Christensen. “But money interests, such as real estate, wanted to maintain Republican control over one of the critical levers of power in New York.” Christensen explained that, in order to hold onto the majority, Republican state senators began offering state senator Democrats perks normally given to the majority party. These bonuses include bigger staff, larger offices (possibly where loser Republicans might have sat), committee chairs (with $15,000 stipends), and millions of dollars from special interests toward re-election. In exchange, those Democrats would allow Republicans to choose what legislation comes to the floor of the NY State Senate.
“We have people elected as Democrats, and for the sake of money and power, have chosen to support Republican leadership of that chamber,” stated Christensen, adding, “Turncoats!”
Currently, there are nine Democrats sharing the Republican perks while caucusing with them under an IDC banner. They are Marisol Alcantara (Manhattan), Tony Avella (Queens), David Carlucci (Rockland), Simcha Felder (Brooklyn), Jesse Hamilton (Brooklyn), Jeff Klein (Bronx), Jose Peralta (Queens), Diane Savino (Staten Island), and David Valesky (Onondaga). Collectively, they are responsible for blocking Democratic legislation that promotes single-payer healthcare, tenant protections, Campaign for Fiscal Equity Act, the DREAM Act, voting reform, GENDA, criminal justice reform, environment and aging issues, among many others.
“Although IDC members co-sponsor a lot of progressive bills, it’s all a bunch of hogwash,” said Sami Koblah Disu. “Last year they supported the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (legislation in bringing billions of dollars owed to NYC public schools), but when it was time to engage in a committee vote and get it onto the Senate’s floor, all IDC members were somehow absent.”
Added Christensen, “If Marisol was here tonight, she would say, ‘I’m a real liberal. I’m progressive. I was a Bernie delegate. I support single-payer.’ — but through IDC, Marisol enables Republicans to block progressive legislation.”
NO IDC NY has brought together a coalition of a 100 anti-IDC groups, and along with the Working Families Party, is educating voters in all five boroughs of IDC’s two-faced approach to their jobs in Albany. The coalition is lining up strong candidates to oppose all IDC members in the Sept. 13th primary election.
“Since that certain person won in 2016, people are waking up!” asserted Christensen, with the intensity of an Eliot Ness. “And we have a new generation of people not willing to let this stand. We’re going to defeat Marisol. We’re going to defeat Jesse Hamilton and Jose Peralta. We believe we will defeat Jeff Klein. And we have a strong candidate against Diane Savino. We are also confident that Tony Avella will lose his seat. We’re going to break this thing and have a Democratic State Senate in New York!”