The key to any chance of Democrats uniting to take control of the Senate broke his silence Thursday and called for an end to the public intraparty fight over whether state Democrats should cobble together a coalition to topple the Republican majority.
“The debate over who controls the New York State Senate has become a circus,” said Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who leads the now seven-member Independent Democratic Conference that works closely with the Republican majority. “I will not have any part of it. It is the kind of dysfunctional public display that has voters asking where is the leadership needed to get this state moving forward.”
Klein, however, isn’t saying yet how the IDC would be aligned in the 2017 legislative session, said spokeswoman Lis Smith. She said a decision on whether the IDC will continue to align with the Senate majority or with Democrats will be made by the IDC and announced in coming weeks.
“The role of each senator elected by their constituents is to make the difficult decisions to ensure the New York State Senate is ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead,” Klein said. “I intend to fulfill that responsibility.”
Klein made his statement a day after former state Democratic Party executive director Charlie King, a longtime surrogate for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, pushed back at the mainline Senate Democratic conference as it tried to publicly pressure Cuomo to unite Democrats and take the Senate majority.
Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and the liberal Working Families Party, which is influential in Democratic politics, have been pushing Cuomo as leader of the party to bring all Democrats in the Senate together.
Although Democrats, pending a count in one race, appear to have won the 32 votes needed in the November elections to control the Senate beginning Jan. 1, they are fractured. In addition to the IDC, conservative Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who ran as a Republican and Democrat, has chosen to continue to be part of the Republican conference.
“I find it embarrassing for anyone to suggest that the New York State Senate is incapable of choosing its own leadership,” Klein said. “Asking the executive branch to step over its boundaries and dictate control of the State Senate runs counter to the separation of powers that is necessary in a functioning state government.”
Cuomo, for the first time directly, said Thursday that he won’t get involved in the Senate fight.
“The situation in that caucus (is) you have personal rifts, you have personal agendas, that have gone back for years and, that, they are going to have to work through, if it’s going to worked through,” Cuomo said a press even later in the day. “So that, I will leave to them. It’s not my place to get involved in that and I have no desire to.”
Democrats and their supporters, however, said unification is essential in the face of President-elect Donald Trump.
“The time for political games is over,” said Karen Scharff, of Citizen Action of New York, on Wednesday after a public demonstration outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office. “We’re facing a real threat in a Trump administration that seems intent to follow through on its radical, unconstitutional campaign promises. Governor Cuomo and New York Democrats need to unify for the sake of all New Yorkers so that our state can be a leader against Trump’s anti-worker, anti-immigrant and racist agenda.”
Stewart-Cousins said she’s not giving up.
“We owe it to the people of the state who voted for a Democratic majority to do our best to fulfill their wishes,” said Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers). “We look forward to continuing discussions with Senator Klein, Senator Felder and our party leader Governor Cuomo to achieve this goal. Let’s be clear this is not about picking leaders, but about uniting the party and serving all New Yorkers.”