Independent Dems to end Senate majority coalition with GOP

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ALBANY -- The state Senate's Independent Democratic Conference in a surprise move Wednesday said it will end its historic, bipartisan coalition with Republicans to form a Democratic coalition to run the chamber next year.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo applauded the move, which could end the last bastion of power for Republicans in state government. Republican senators under co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) had been the Democratic governor's most reliable allies and were critical to accomplishing much of Cuomo's first-term agenda.

The change would happen after Election Day, unless Republicans can win at least three seats now held by Democrats to secure a majority on its own.

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Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who heads the IDC, said he has the support of all five members of the Independent Democratic Conference. He met Monday behind closed doors with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been spearheading the effort to secure a Democratic Senate majority to advance a progressive agenda.

"All IDC members are united and agree to work together to form a new majority coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Democratic Conference after the November elections in order to deliver the results that working families across this state still need and deserve," Klein said.

"There is no doubt that we have accomplished much for the state over the past four years," Cuomo said, citing accomplishments with Republicans. "There is also no doubt there are progressive goals that we have yet to achieve and that we must accomplish next January."

But Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said, "It's unfortunate that Mayor de Blasio, the radical Working Families Party and their co-conspirators in the Senate Democratic Conference are attempting to take control of the New York State Senate. This 'agreement' is nothing more than a short-term political deal designed to make threatened primaries go away." Two members of the IDC -- Klein and Sen. Tony Avella of Queens -- have been facing potential primaries.

Republicans have controlled the Senate for most of the last half-century despite a Democratic voter enrollment advantage that has grown to 2:1 over Republicans. Democrats won a majority in 2007, but lost it again in 2009 after two years marked by historically high tax increases and spending, as well as political gridlock.

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The IDC formed in 2011 as a repudiation of that Democratic leadership, denying Democrats a majority, even though together they would slightly outnumber Republicans.

The brief chaotic Democratic tenure, however, was under a different leadership and about half of those Democrats are gone. The minority conference is now led by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), who could become New York's first woman to lead a majority legislative conference.

Cuomo has been on a statewide tour since the legislation session ended last week promoting victories including bills to combat heroin addiction. In the stops in Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton and on Long Island he had Republican senators at his side and congratulating them as partners in the success of state government.

On May 31, Cuomo had committed to trying to flip control of the Senate as part of a deal to secure the important endorsement of the liberal Working Families Party.

"Today's announcement that the IDC will be reuniting with Senate Democrats to form a new progressive majority in the state Senate is great news for working families throughout New York," said Bill Lipton of the Working Families Party.

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The party is pushing measures long blocked by Republicans. They include more protection of late-term abortions, a higher minimum wage and a Dream Act to provide college financial aid to immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

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