ALBANY – Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder announced Tuesday that he will stick with the Republican majority through the legislative session even if Democrats achieve a numerical majority in special elections tonight.
Felder’s decision means the Republicans -- with his help -- will maintain at least 32 seats in the 63-seat Senate even if Democrats win the two contests to fill vacancies. That said, the senator said he could reconsider the decision later this year.
“Regardless of which candidates prevail in today’s elections, I will continue to caucus with the majority coalition,” Felder (D-Brooklyn) said in a statement. “This issue is best resolved outside of the legislative session, and I look forward to revisiting it after session.”
The entire State Legislature is up for re-election in November. Felder, of Brooklyn, faces a Democratic primary in the fall in his conservative district, where he has strong Democratic and Republican support.
If Felder were to flip the majority to the Democrats during the current legislative session, which is scheduled to end June 20, he could touch off an ugly power struggle. Republicans have created Senate rules that require 38 votes to change the chamber’s leadership, a rule Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) insists can be changed a vote of 32 senators. If tested, the rule would likely be contested in court.
“I believe it is my obligation to prevent an unprecedented and uncertain late-session political battle that will only hurt my constituents and New Yorkers,” Felder said. “Political gamesmanship must not be allowed to jeopardize the leadership, committee structure and staff of the New York State Senate and push this institution into turmoil. Upheaval and court battles among partisans is not the preferred method of governing.”
Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif called Felder an important and trusted member of the majority conference. “We look forward to continuing to work with him to move his district and our entire state forward,” Reif said.
Several Democrats said Tuesday that they hoped to win a clear majority in the November elections, which they expect would prompt Felder to join them.
Felder won a major victory in the state budget negotiations last month with the help of Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). Senate Republicans agreed to some exemptions to state public school standards for Jewish schools in Felder’s district. Republicans nearly held up the $168 billion budget for that issue and ultimately won.
The most closely contested race in the special election Tuesday is in Westchester County. Shelley Mayer, a Democratic Assembly member, faces former Rye City Coucil member Julie Killian for the Senate seat. The seat was vacated after longtime Sen. George Latimer, a Democrat, was elected Westchester County executive.
Democrats expected to easily retain their seat in a heavily Democratic district in the Bronx, which became vacant when Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. won election to New York City Council. Democratic Assemb. Luis Sepulveda, Republican Patrick Delices and Reform Party candidate Pamela Stewart-Martinez are vying for the seat.
The Senate’s Democratic majority issued a statement in which leaders said they were confident of winning both special election seats Tuesday. The statement didn’t mention Felder by name, but said: “The voters are sick and tired of Democrats that empower Trump Republicans.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo apparently wasn’t satisfied with Felder’s decision to delay the power switch until after the session. Cuomo has been pressured by his Democratic primary opponent, activist-actress Cynthia Nixon, and the Working Families Party that backs her to unify Democrats into a Senate majority.
“The governor’s position is clear: the Democrats must unify to take back the majority.” said Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever. “This conversation will continue in the morning.”