State Senate Democrats Reunite For 1st Time Since 2011 Split
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Democrats in the New York state Senate reunited Tuesday for the first time since a 7-year-long schism within the party helped give control of the chamber to Republicans.
Former members of the Independent Democratic Conference and mainline Democrats met briefly behind closed doors at the Capitol, a day after the eight-member IDC was formally disbanded at the start of Monday's Senate session. Monday was the chamber's first meeting after a two-week break that began immediately after the 2018-19 state budget was approved March 31.
The breakaway Democrats who sided with Republicans helped the GOP gain control of the 63-seat Senate starting in 2011.
Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo brokered a deal that called for the IDC to dissolve and reunite with traditional Democrats.
Even with the IDC's demise, Republicans still control the Senate, 31-30. That could change next week with two special elections being held downstate to fill vacant Senate seats.
After the meeting there were no outward signs of any lingering animosity between the two Democratic factions after years of feuding, which included mainline Democrats blaming the renegade group for keeping progressive measures from gaining traction in the Senate. In fact, there was applause when the formerly rogue Democrats were welcomed back into the mainline, according to Sen. Michael Gianaris, who represents parts of Queens and Brooklyn.
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers, the Senate minority leader, called the meeting "the biggest step" toward presenting a united front in the Senate.
"So I'm happy with this step, and we will take each step as it comes," she said.
Democrats already have a big majority in the state Assembly. With the party holding the offices of governor, comptroller and attorney general, winning control of the Senate would ease the way for Democratic bills currently blocked by the GOP.
Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx, who led the IDC and is now deputy minority leader, said Democrats will spend the second half of the 2018 legislative session attempting to pass measures that didn't make it into the $168.3 billion state budget. Those priorities include voting reforms, cashless bail and the Dream Act, which would extend financial aid to students who entered the country illegally as children.
"Hopefully we'll have a majority before we leave in June," Klein said. "If not, we're still united to make sure we win a Democratic majority" in the November elections.