ALBANY — With a win in a special election Tuesday night, Democrats will again hold the 32 seats needed to control the State Senate when they return to Albany June 5. But the win only reignited infighting among Democratic factions that is expected to keep Republicans in charge of the senior house at least through this session.
Democrat Brian Benjamin won the vacated seat in the upper Manhattan district, which has been open since Democrat Bill Perkins was elected to City Council earlier this year.
“The people of New York have sent more Democrats than Republicans to the chamber; we should respect that vote,” said Mike Murphy, spokesman for the mainline Democrats which has 23 members and operates as the Senate’s minority.
Thirty-one Republicans plus conservative Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who conferences with them, form the Senate’s majority. That narrow majority is given a cushion through a power-sharing arrangement with the eight members of the Independent Democratic Conference.
If the mainline Democrats, the IDC and Felder united, they would hold a 32-seat majority.
Senate rules created by the Republicans, however, require 38 senators to agree to major changes, such as flipping majority control. And although the mainline Democrats argue that they can change the rules with 32 votes, neither side expects a showdown in June.
One Democratic senator said the relations between the Democrat factions are more strained than ever. On Wednesday, Democrats, who call themselves “No IDC NY,” continued protest the district offices of IDC members from the Bronx to Syracuse.
“Thirty two is not a magic number,” said Candice Giove, spokeswoman for the IDC. The IDC broke away from the mainline Democrats in 2011 amid ethics scandals and gridlock. The IDC has since worked closely with the Republicans and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The IDC sent letters this week to Democrats seeking to get them to commit to unite on some core Democratic issues, including protecting women’s rights to abortion, and to oppose conservative policies and funding cuts by Republican President Donald Trump. “It’s time to call the roll,” Giove said.
But the IDC’s effort backfired with Felder.
“Who are you to decide what the legislative priorities are for loyal Democrats across New York state?” Felder wrote in a letter to the IDC’s leader, Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx). “While I concur with you that the Democrats must work together to confront challenges ahead for New York, there are many such issues that you have failed to include in your so-called Unity Pledge.”
The Senate’s Republican majority is confident Felder will stay in their fold. “Senator Felder is a valued and trusted member of our conference, and working together we have been able to accomplish many great things for the people of his district and all of New York state,” said Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate Republicans.