In 2008, after decades of Republican control of the New York State Senate, the Democrats gained enough seats to narrowly obtain majority control. Democrats across the state were thrilled with the prospect of a Democratic controlled Senate. We all believed this would lead to long-awaited reforms. Within months it became clear that they were not up to the task. Their short reign of leadership left New Yorkers of both parties shaking their heads, especially on Long Island.
In 2010 their failures caught up with them and we lost two Democratic seats on Long Island as well as the Democratic majority. The MTA payroll tax was probably the most pronounced ‘slap in the face’ that the Democratic Senate majority gave to Long Island and other nearby suburban locations.
Enter the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a breakaway conference spearheaded by Democratic Senator Jeff Klein in early 2011 in response to the dysfunction of the Senate Democratic Conference. The original members of the IDC consisted of four members: Senators Jeff Klein, Diane Savino, David Carlucci and David Valesky. On Tuesday Senator Malcolm Smith announced that he will be joining the IDC as well.
The IDC is not to be confused with the now defunct and mostly convicted “Four Amigos” who in 2009 created chaos in the Senate and orchestrated a self-serving coup deadlocking the Senate. Three out of four of the self titled “Four Amigos” were convicted of unrelated crimes and are no longer members of the State Senate. One “Amigo”, Rubin Diaz, remains in the Senate and in a recent press release professed his continued loyalty to the Democratic Conference despite his anti-choice and anti-equality ideology.
A Coalition Government is Formed:
Pending final results of ongoing recounts, it appears that the Democrats may have narrowly won back a numerical majority in the State Senate this year. I emphasize the word “numerical”. Here is the new math: First one newly elected Democrat, Simcha Felder, decided to caucus with the Republicans reducing the Democratic lead but still maintaining a numerical majority (assuming Democrats win the additional seats involved in the recount).
However it was confirmed on Tuesday that the IDC (now five members strong) and the Republican Conference formed a new and unprecedented power sharing coalition. This agreement tipped the scale ensuring that the Democratic conference will not be able to obtain a controlling majority. IDC leaders Senator Jeff Klein and Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos will be sharing the Temporary President position, alternating every two weeks, while also ensuring that certain Democratic agenda items are addressed in the upcoming session.
Comparing the Alternatives:
A Republican controlling majority is certainly not ideal. Among other things the Republican conference has continually dragged their feet on ethics reform; has reneged on their redistricting pledge to voters without flinching; their record is appalling on women’s equality and reproductive rights; and none of the Republican Senators from Long Island budged on their opposition to marriage equality (which passed in 2011 without their vote.)
However a Democratic led conference is no saving grace for Long Island either. The lack of Democratic representation from Long Island provides the highly partisan Senate Democrats with no motivation to address the needs of Long Island communities, all of which elected Republicans. Even if Long Island had Democratic representation, without any independent Democrats (no independent Long Island Democrats made it onto the general election ballot this year), then we would have been left with those who are beholden to a city-centric agenda. Good for New York City, bad for Long Island.
There appears to be a split forming between city-centric Democrats who are against this new move and suburban/rural democrats who favor this new form of government in New York. It was reported on Tuesday that New York Democratic Party Co-Chair and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner stated in support of this deal, that the power sharing deal “is a positive step”.
This rift between Democratic factions is understandable. The Democratic Conference has focused on a New York City centric agenda at the expense of rural and suburban communities like Long Island, and has put partisan politics ahead of good government. Conversely the IDC holds itself out to be more inclusive, both geographically and politically, putting good government principles ahead of partisan politics. Hopefully this is indeed how they will govern. On Long Island we have nothing to lose by giving them a chance to do what they say they will do.
The Future of Good Government:
Under current circumstances neither a Republican led Senate nor a Democratic led senate is beneficial to Long Island. That is why a coalition government offers us some hope. Hopefully certain items on the state wide Democratic agenda are non-negotiable including issues relating to fair pay and reproductive rights as well as public financing of campaigns. This way some of our important Democratic issues are addressed while avoiding a scenario where long Island becomes the target of political payback in the Hatfield–McCoy, Republican-Democrat Senate feud.
The IDC has also mentioned that energy policy reform is a priority. Unfortunately there are no Long Island independent Democrats in the Senate to help shape energy policy for Long Island. We can only hope that the IDC will serve as a reliable proxy for the interests of Long Island along with our local Assembly delegation and Governor Cuomo. I am unsure that the Long Island Senate delegation, all Republicans, could adequately represent long Island interests on this issue given their role in shaping the highly flawed and overly political regional power authority.
It is also worth noting that Governor Cuomo has been a friend to Long Island and would likely work well with a coalition government. However for Long Island to truly have a seat at the table we must elect independent Democrats from Long Island to the State Senate in the near future. Key word here is ‘independent’. In the mean time we need to give this new coalition government and the IDC a chance. It is our best hope for sufficient representation for Long Island as well as real reform throughout New York State.
Jennifer J. Maertz, Esq., a Rocky Point resident, holds a B.S. degree from St. John's University, a JD from Touro Law, and an MBA from NYIT. Jennifer is a practicing litigation attorney and a former candidate for NY State Senate in eastern Suffolk County.