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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

State Senate Dems assess their new position

The New York State Senate meets in the

The New York State Senate meets in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

From just a glance, it would seem that the clock in the State Senate had spun back four years.

In 2011, four Democrats seceded from a scandal-scarred conference and formed the Independent Democratic Conference, adding a unique third dimension to the partisan split in the upper house.

They received cordial consideration from the ruling GOP majority. And after the Republicans lost ground in the 2012 elections, Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), as head of the IDC, became a co-leader with Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who heads the Republican caucus.

Now Skelos has a clear majority again -- putting Klein back in a lesser, dissenting role, with five members in a house of 63 with 24 mainline Democrats, 32 Republicans, and a non-IDC Democrat who caucuses with Skelos.

But even in Albany, time doesn't reverse course. Now members of the main Democratic caucus, whose group lost three incumbents in November, are assessing what changed. Last year, party-allied unions and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio put stock in the losing effort at a majority that they may reassemble in 2016, a presidential year when conditions better favor Democrats around New York.

Also, they argue, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) represents a more credible leader for her party's caucus after indicted Sen. John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) stepped aside.

Stewart-Cousins and Klein showed continued tension as the newly elected legislature settled in. She said she was disappointed that rather than reunite with the party, he chose "a junior-partner role" with the GOP consisting of "personal perks."

Klein replied: "After failing to secure a promised Democratic majority, with the notable loss of three of her incumbent members, Democratic leader Stewart-Cousins is in no position to pass judgment on how to lead and govern."

Although he can now set the house's agenda without Klein's signoff, Skelos said last week of his relationship with the IDC, "It's going to continue to be a bipartisan effort."

On Friday, Klein refused to predict how the power arrangements might change again next year. "We've run in two cycles and it's important for us in the next two years . . . to show once again we can govern in a bipartisan fashion."

He noted that his conference has issued a jobs plan it would push.

If the party balance changes, Klein could become more crucial to Skelos again one day.

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