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Democratic voters exact revenge against Senate IDC in primaries

Six of the eight members of the now-defunct breakaway group lost in primaries Thursday.

New York State Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader

New York State Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein lost to Alessandra Biaggi as former members of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference were defeated in races five months after the IDC dissolved and rejoined the Democratic establishment. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — Revenge was served cold in Thursday’s primary where six of eight former members of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference were defeated in races five months after the IDC dissolved and rejoined the Democratic establishment.

"New York politics changed forever,” said Bill Lipton, director of the New York Working Famlies Party, which led the liberal attack on the IDC for allying with the Republican majority for seven years. “The IDC is dead.”

The biggest target of a progressive group of Democrats was former IDC chairman Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who lost to Alessandra Biaggi in a hotly contested race that began before the IDC disbanded and rejoined the Senate’s Democratic minority in April. Klein created the IDC in 2010 after a chaotic, short-lived majority held by Democrats ended with Republican control.

Klein had promised the IDC would work with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and create an alliance with the GOP, which was desperate for an ally to cling to its narrow majority. The IDC helped pass progressive measures such as gay marriage and paid family leave long bottled up by the Republican majority, but failed to expand abortion rights, increase school aid and achieve other liberal goals.

Sen. Jesse Hamilton, in office since 2014, was defeated Thursday by insurgent Zellnor Myrie in Brooklyn. Sen. Jose Peralta, in office since 2010, lost to Jessica Ramos in Queens. Sen. Marisol Alcantara, in office since 2017, lost to Robert Jackson in Manhattan. And Sen. Tony Avella, who held the seat since 2010, lost to former New York City Comptroller John Liu.

Only State Sen. Diane Savino, who has represented Staten Island since 2004; and Sen. David Carlucci, who has represented an Ossining district since 2010, kept the Democratic line for the November elections.

But the potentially bigger impact may have been in the race for the seat held by Sen. David Valesky (D-Oneida), who is waiting out the count of absentee ballots to see if his loss to Rachel May holds up. May, Syracuse University’s director of sustainability education, was ahead by 606 votes Thursday night in her first race. 

The ultimate decision could mean the seat held by Valesky, who hasn’t had an opponent since 2010, may be in play for Republicans who have a strong political operation in counties upstate and a message of providing a check on Democratic control of state government. However, Democrats still have a strong enrollment advantage of 70,917 voters to 47,242 Republicans.

"It clearly demonstrates that voters are willing to punish incumbents when the electorate perceives they are not acting in the best interest of their district," said Craig M. Burnett, assistant professor of political science at Hofstra University. "This is especially true in a primary, where voters tend to be more progressive [in Democratic primaries] or conservative [in Republican primaries]."

“It’s bad news for the GOP,” said Gerald Benjamin, distinguished professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz and a Republican. He said the extraordinarily large Democratic turnout Thursday and the long, impassioned effort to remove IDC members reflected a surge that Democrats called a blue wave. “Seems like the wave is real,” he said. “Higher turnout, if it persists, will likely take [Republicans] out of power,” Benjamin said.

Senate Republicans said Democrats struck deals with unions and liberals that would raise taxes and move New York too far to the left ideologically.

“The checks and balances, the accountability, and the leadership provided by Senate Republicans has never been more important than it is today,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport).

“This is a new day and politics as usual are no longer acceptable,” said Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers). “Senate Republicans have held New York back for too long, and the oncoming blue wave will elect a functional Democratic majority in November.”

Cuomo was pressured by his liberal primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, to broker the dissolution of the IDC, but the governor said Friday that he took no side in the fight to unseat former IDC members. Asked if he regrets not helping Klein, an important ally whom Cuomo had included in closed-door negotiations on budgets and major legislation, Cuomo said: “I have no regrets whatsoever.”

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