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ALBANY -- Former state Attorney General G. Oliver Koppell said Monday he will challenge Senate co-leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) in a Democratic primary to end the bipartisan majority with Republicans in the Senate.
"What's prompting me is frankly -- to use a strong word -- disgust at the betrayal of the Democratic Party and, more importantly, betrayal of the Democratic principles that Sen. Klein has shown," Koppell said in an interview.
Klein is the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares majority control in a coalition with Republicans led by Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).
Klein, a prodigious fundraiser with public polls on his side, said bring it on.
"Senator Klein looks forward to a spirited debate of ideas," said Klein spokeswoman Candice M. Glove. She said Monday that Klein "is eager to address his record . . . and his vision for the people of his district and the future of this state."
Klein has said his historic arrangement with Republicans has turned many long bottled-up liberal issues into law. They include legalization of gay marriage, a higher minimum wage, a test case for public financing of campaigns and tougher gun control law.
He can also point to an April 22 Siena College poll which found 58 percent of voters statewide want the bipartisan coalition to continue. That view was shared by a majority of voters in every part of the state, including New York City.
Koppell argued, however, that African Americans, Latinos and other minorities "have been completely shut out of the state Senate." No minority or woman holds a top leadership post in the coalition. The IDC had briefly included Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), an African American, but threw him out when he was accused of trying to abuse New York City's system of matching campaign funds with public money in a bid for mayor.
Although there are more Democrats than Republicans in the Senate, the Republicans have formed a majority coalition with five IDC members and a conservative Democrat. Koppell argues that if Democrats were united, current Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), an African American woman, would be the majority leader.
"For me it's . . . to reverse what's happened here, which is the empowerment of Sen. Skelos and conservatives," said Koppell, who ended his final term on the New York City Council in December.
Koppell said that if Democrats were in charge, a women's rights agenda with greater protection for late-term abortions would be passed along with a higher minimum wage and a Dream Act to provide college aid to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
He also said there would be statewide system of public financing of campaigns, which is already supported by the Democrat-led Assembly and Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. There is a powerful and well-funded lobby pushing the issue, which will provide substantial campaign contributions to Democrats like Koppell who support the measure.
Klein forged the historic bipartisan coalition in 2010 as Republicans sought to maintain a share of control in the face of mounting Democratic wins. Klein said he broke away from the traditional Democratic conference after its brief stint in the majority, which was plagued by gridlock with Republicans and an embarrassing coup in 2009 by dissidents who briefly returned the perks and power of majority control to Republicans.
An official with Democratic conference said the Democrats will help Koppell.
Koppell, a former assemblyman, was elected by the Legislature in 1993 to fill a vacancy as attorney general.