The state Senate Democrats who refuse to sit with their party are now fighting among themselves.
State Sen. Simcha Felder (D–Midwood) — who took home an award for being one of New York’s top conservative pols and who has drawn ire from his colleagues for sitting across the aisle with the Republicans — penned a letter to the head of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference on May 24 urging the group of eight to rejoin the True Blues.
Felder’s letter was in response to IDC leader state Sen. Jeff Klein’s (D–Bronx) own missive in which he asked all of the Senate Dems to sign a pledge — the Democratic Unity Pledge — to pass a package of seven bills boosting progressive causes, including abortion rights, immigration, and transgender equality.
And it came one day after Dem Brian Benjamin cruised to victory to fill a vacant Senate seat in Harlem, giving the chamber’s Democrats a numerical majority with 32 members. But both Felder and the eight rogue members of the IDC prevent that majority by siding with the Republicans — leaving the rump Democratic Minority Conference with only 23 members.
But it’s unlikely the turncoat faction will rejoin the party fold anytime soon. After coming under public scrutiny recently because several of its members controversially received stipends for committees they don’t head, Klein would have a hard time convincing his members to give up their privileged positions of power and perks without reaping any rewards, said a Democratic political consultant.
“The question becomes, why would Klein give up the power that he has, which is not insignificant, and the power of his conference, to help the Democrats, who have been trying to destroy him, get power?” said Hank Sheinkopf. “There’s no incentive for Klein to take his members to join the Dems because they are going to be shunned and likely not get very much for doing it.”
And Felder’s ploy is all a big public play, too, to keep the spotlight off him, said Sheinkopf, knowing his fellow rogues won’t rejoin the fold, he can safely maintain his seat with the Grand Old Party that more closely aligns with his conservative constituents in his largely Orthodox Jewish district.
“Felder is very conservative, a Democrat by party registration and by candidacy, and he caucuses with the Republicans because they are much more likely to be in tune with his constituents,” he said. “And truthfully, because his constituency is much more conservative, then people might remember were he to vote on social issues along with the Dems, he might get a primary for himself. It’s an interesting phenomenon, his lips say ‘yes, yes, yes,’ but his eyes say ‘no, no, no.’ ”
Felder told this paper back in March that it was the IDC who prevented a true Dem majority, not him — and he would be happy to join his loyal Dem colleagues. But now, Felder is criticizing the IDC for giving eight votes to the Republicans, imploring them to rejoin the mainstream Dems, but won’t commit to joining the conference himself.
Asked about his earlier statement, Felder’s office only referred this paper back to his letter and said he would be “open to discussions at the appropriate time.”
And the IDC’s Democratic Unity Pledge, which puts pressure on the Senate Dems to pass the liberal legislation, is just cheap political theater to distract the leadership and the public from the faction’s hypocrisy, said one constituent of fellow IDC member state Sen. Jesse Hamilton (D–Crown Heights), who joined dozens of others at a protest outside Hamilton’s office on May 24.
“It’s specious in that they are trying to put the other Dems on the line because they are saying not all Dems support it. They are deflecting,” said Prospect Heights resident Judith Hertzberg. “The fact that the bills don’t even get to the floor is because the GOP won’t let them out of committee, so the notion of where do all the other Dems stand is a red herring. The roll can’t even be called.”
Sheinkopf said Klein’s unity campaign is a sly ploy to prove his power and progressiveness to his fellow Dems.
“Klein’s battle is not with the Republicans, it’s with the Dems,” said Sheinkopf. “Klein wants to prove he’s more progressive than the members of the Democratic conference, and that’s the smart thing to do — that way no one can accuse him of being anything less than progressive.”
A spokeswoman for the IDC refused to elaborate on whether the group would rejoin the party fold, but said its main priority is the package of seven bills, and that Felder has shown his true colors by refusing to sign the pledge himself.
“It’s telling that Simcha Felder didn’t sign the pledge. We now see where he stands on these seven crucial issues,” said Candice Giove. “Thirty two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump. Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership. The Independent Democratic Conference has made its positions and its values clear. We are asking every other Senator to do the same. It’s time to call the roll.”
Felder’s office refused to comment on which of the seven bills he would support, if any.