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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

What role now for the Independent Democratic Conference?

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) speaks at

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) speaks at the Republican Party Convention in Rye Brook on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The New York State Senate imported a kind of parliamentary governance to Albany for the first time in 2011 when four Democratic members broke away from their party conference to form one of their own.

Since then, this Independent Democratic Conference has played a crucial role in allowing the Republicans under co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) to continue wielding major power in the chamber -- as in European coalition politics.

Then came the 2014 primary season. Under the threat of opposition by liberal Democrats, the Working Families Party, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the IDC -- currently with five members -- agreed to realign with the Senate Democrats.

Now, with all five back on the general election ballot, a crucial question arises.

If the IDC is really withdrawing from its pact with the GOP, what purpose might it serve?

Jason Elan, a spokesman for conference leader Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) said Thursday that the group "remains committed to being a strong, stable force of governing that will continue to deliver positive results."

One IDC insider added, requesting anonymity: "We have our own agenda. We share a lot of policy agreements [with the mainline Democratic conference], but we have different things we want to push." The three IDC members from New York City have districts with middle-class concerns, shared with suburbanites, about such issues as property taxes, the insider said.

Senate Democratic leaders insist the state party and its allies are working toward winning a clear majority in the upper house. But such caucuses as the IDC don't easily surrender leverage when they have it. Some in the GOP camp suggest the recent alliance with Klein & Co. could resume after the election. "They [only] made a deal to make a deal" with the Democratic conference, one said.

Any deal -- and the IDC's reason for being -- depends on the statewide results of the Nov. 4 election.

Thirty-two seats bring a majority in today's 63-seat Senate. There are now 29 Republicans and 27 Democrats. One Democrat, Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), caucuses with the Republicans. Klein, as a leader of five members, switches off with Skelos as the house's temporary president. Two seats are vacant until New Year's.

Calculating possible outcomes can be a little like figuring out who will get the second wild-card slots in baseball's playoffs. That is, there are many, many moving parts.

In one Brooklyn district where the Democratic nomination is tantamount to election, lawyer Jesse Hamilton won the primary for the seat vacated by Eric Adams, who became borough president earlier this year. The Working Families Party and Mayor Bill de Blasio backed Hamilton's rival, Rubain Dorancy. Now there's talk of Hamilton becoming the latest member of the IDC.

That said, another race went the other way in western New York, where the IDC supported a challenger to incumbent Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), who prevailed anyway.

Tensions remain within the state's dominant Democratic Party. So does the prospect of coalition politics in the embattled Senate.

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