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Liberal leaders call Senate Democrats’ unification plan weak

ALBANY – Some of the state’s most influential liberal leaders are trashing the deal struck Tuesday to unify Democrats in the Senate to try to topple Republicans from their long-time control of the chamber.

“The proposal is a fraud,” said Arthur Z. Schwartz of the NY Progressive Action Network, which is among the groups pushing for a Democratic majority in the Senate. “It is just a fig leaf to allow Governor Cuomo to say to Democratic leaders around the U.S. that he has dealt with his runaway caucus problem, when he really hasn’t,” he told Newsday.

Cuomo is facing re-election in 2018 and some supporters want him to run for president 2020. Yet Cuomo has been pressured hard by New York and national Democrats to end his long working relationship with the Republican and turn control of the Senate over to Democrats. Liberal support is important for Cuomo in his re-election bid and critical in winning Democratic presidential primaries.

On Wednesday at a press event in Corning, Cuomo didn’t respond to a reporter’s question about criticism of the deal by liberal leaders it was supposed to in part appease. He said he would decide in January when to hold two special elections, which would determine if the unification happens before or after the budget is approved.

Other liberal leaders including one-time Cuomo foe Zephyr Teachout as well as the Working Families Party, the Democrats’ progressive wing, have similar views.

On Tuesday, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference that broke away from the Democrats’ minority conference in 2011 agreed to unite. But there are many contingencies in the deal.

The strings include delaying the unification until after the state budget is passed, which is due by April 1. That would mean Republicans would negotiate another $163 billion budget, which sets spending for the year and includes major policy initiatives. Republicans hold the slim majority with the support of the Independent Democratic Conference led by Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) and Sen. Simcha Felder, a conservative Brooklyn Democrat who allies with the GOP.

“It’s a sham,” Teachout said Wednesday. “There’s no enforcement to get them to do anything after April.”

A similar effort to reunite Democrats fell apart in 2014.

“The goal seems to be Cuomo wants Republican control of the state Senate through the next budget, and he gets it,” Teachout said. “Cuomo and Klein are using a deal with no leverage mechanism to get Senate Dems to stop speaking out about the IDC.”

Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party, said the deal enacts change too slowly in the face of funding cuts and conservative policies from Republican President Donald Trump.

“This proposed deal leaves Trump Republicans in control of the state Senate for the most important budget in our state’s recent history,” Lipton said.

The mainline Democratic conference and the IDC declined comment. The state Democratic Committee headed by Cuomo that proposed the deal didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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