Top state Democrats lay out plan to reunite Senate
Former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, now the executive director of Win (Women In Need), meets the press after the mayoral debate on Oct.10, 2017. (JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
ALBANY — Four top state Democrats on Monday put out a plan for reunification of the fractured Senate Democrats.
The letter was sent to members of the mainline Senate Democrats and a group of eight breakaway Dems currently aligned in a majority leadership coalition with the Republicans.
The letter laid out terms of a potential deal to reunify the two sides who have been apart since 2011.
And it warns that if the breakaway Dems do not accept the terms, the state Democratic party controlled by Gov. Cuomo will back primaries against them.
The missive was signed by Cuomo’s handpicked chairman and vice chairwoman of the state Democratic party — Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, respectively, Rep. Joseph Crowley, of Queens, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, and Hector Figueroa, president of the influential Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.
“Having heard each side out many times over the past several years, we believe there is pathway to unification based on certain parameters that members on both sides have privately expressed a willingness to support,” the letter says.
Under the parameters laid out in the letter, both sides will pledge to come together to win special elections for two open Senate seats. Cuomo, according to the letter, is expected to call the special election post budget, which likely means in April. That also means the Senate GOP will remain in the majority for the budget talks.
If the Dems pick up both seats in the special election, the two sides, under the proposed deal, will create their own majority coalition with members from each side serving as co-leaders of the chamber.
That also assumes that a ninth breakaway Dem, Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, who actually caucuses with the GOP, returns to the fold and sits with the Democrats.
Rep. Joseph Crowley at the 2016 Citizenship Now Call In at Guttman Community College in NYC on April 26, 2016. (BARRY WILLIAMS/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
Both sides, under the proposed deal, would have to approve which bills come to the Senate floor for a vote. And their leaders would be able to attend budget and bill negotiations with the governor and Assembly speaker, the letter said.
The two sides would also have to refrain from participating in primary challenges against incumbent senators. The mainline Dems have threatened primaries against the Independent Democratic Conference if there is no reunification.
Both sides would also be able to approve each other’s deputy leaders, a clear shot at Sen. Michael Gianaris, the Queens Dem who is currently the mainline Democrats’ No. 2, who is not liked by either the rogue Dems or Cuomo, whose aides have accused him of undermining potential reunification deals for fear of losing power.
Gianaris, who has denied being an obstacle, seemingly would be able to retain his role as head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
But both sides would be required to “work together and coordinate resources to mount effective campaigns and win seats in the upcoming general election.”
Cuomo, who has been accused by some on the left of preferring the split, has met with both sides several times in recent months. He again publicly called for a reunification a day after the Nov. 7 elections.
“This solution is both reasonable, and if the parties act in good faith, it would resolve the ongoing distrust and ensure a lasting peace and long term working relationship,” the letter says.
Issues like titles and committee chairmanships would have to be worked out at a later date.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the mainline conference is “willing to enter a coalition consistent with the recent correspondence from state Democratic party officials. “
"Our conference has long called for all senators elected as Democrats to work together and not empower the Republican minority,” Stewart-Cousins said.
A Senate Democratic spokesman, when asked, clarified that the mainline Dems would agree to the proposed deal.
Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein, of the Bronx, called the proposal “a very exciting development.”
But he said his group, which has been under intense pressure from progressives to return to the fold since the election of President Trump, is “ready to move forward,” but only if any final agreement is based on a legislative agenda that includes passage of a bill to strengthen abortion laws, enact a state DREAM Act, create a public campaign finance system, and adopt a single-payer health care program.
The mainline Dems support the agenda but as of now are believe to lack the votes — even with reunification — to pass much, if any, of it.
“We are eager and ready to be part of a Democratic Coalition that could proudly and publicly state what its legislative positions are going into the 2018 session,” Klein said.
He also called on Cuomo to call the two Senate special elections as quickly as possible and not wait until the budget process is over.
“There is no reason for the special elections to be held up and I suggest they be held as soon as the law permits,” Klein said.
State Democratic Party Executive Director Geoff Berman in a tweet asked for clarification from Klein. "Let's be clear: Is that a yes or a no? Do you accept the terms spelled out in the letter today from New York State Democratic Party leadership?," Berman asked.
An IDC source reponded to the Daily News, "yes, based on policy."
"We want to know where each and every member stands publicly" on the policy issues spelled out by the IDC, the source said.
A Senate GOP spokesman did not return a request for comment.
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