ALBANY _ The big test of the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference on Monday when it brought the progressive Dream Act legislation to the floor only to see it defeated leaves big questions for the coming elections and for control of the Senate.
Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) was praised by his own IDC colleagues for getting the measure to the floor for a vote. The bill was blocked for years by Republicans. The bill would provide college financial aid to illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.
But it was uncertain Tuesday whether simply bringing the bill to a vote where it was rejected is enough to be considered a win or loss for Klein and his breakaway Democrats.
The defeat comes during a liberal wave within the Democratic party fueled by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The Dream Act has also been a high priority in Democratic districts with growing Latino and immigrant voter bases, such as Klein’s Bronx district.
The bill that was already passed by the Assembly gained 31 votes to 29 opposed in the Senate, but failed to gain the 32 votes needed for passage under the rules of the 63-seat house. Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo promised to sign the bill if passed, but hadn’t appeared to do any of the personal outreach that won passage of other difficult, progressive measures he championed including legalization of gay marriage.
Klein’s potential opponent in the fall elections, former New York City Councilman Oliver Koppell, called the vote Klein’s Dream Act “farce” orchestrated with Republicans to appear to prove Klein’s leadership on progressive issues.
Klein “orchestrated a tragic performance,” Koppell said. “Arranging to put the Dream Act on the floor with no advanced notice at a time when a potential Republican supporter was absent assured the bill’s defeat. He once again empowered Republican state senators to block progressive legislation.”
All Republicans sharing the majority with the Independent Democratic Conference opposed the $25 million measure after refusing to include it in the Senate’s budget proposal last week, where it would have a much stronger chance of passing.
Even some Democrats in the minority conference on Monday praised Klein’s for getting the issue to the floor after it was blocked for years by Republicans, who maintain a share of power because of its coalition with the IDC.
Sen. David Valesky (D-Syracuse), a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, said simply bringing the issue to a vote was “perhaps the strongest day of this coalition yet."
But the issue continues to dog Klein among some Democrats, who had criticized him for failing to get progressive issues to the floor. Under the majority’s power-sharing deal, Klein and Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) can effectively block a bill.
"Long ago, I committed to bringing this bill to the floor,” Klein said. “I wish the outcome had been different. It is unfortunate that once again Senate Democrats failed to unite their conference behind an important progressive issue. This is a disturbing pattern that needs to change.”
Democrats in the minority said the change must come from Klein.
“Ultimately, this is a Republican-led coalition and not a bi-partisan one,” said Sen. J. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx). “the Independent Democratic Conference is not able to deliver bi-partisan support for progressive legislation."
But other Democrats used Monday’s vote to again press for Democrats to unit and take over control of the Senate.
Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Bronx), a conservative minister, said on Tuesday that the failed vote should prompt the five-member IDC to rejoin the 24 Democrats in the minority rather than enabling Republicans a share of majority control.
“We cannot continue to hold grudges,” Diaz said. “For the good of the Senate Democratic Conference, we should all put our pride aside.”