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Senate IDC leader says group will maintain independence

Karen Dewitt
WRVO News (file photo)
IDC leader state Sen. Jeff Klein

Senate Independent Conference Leader Jeff Klein says even though his group now plans to realign with the Democrats in the Senate, he won’t rule out working with Republicans in the future.

Klein says the decision by Independent Democratic Conference members to switch allegiances from a coalition with the Republicans to a governing arrangement with the Democrats was all about the issues. Klein says he worked well with the GOP, but this year Republican senators blocked a number of measures that his conference, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many other Democrats in the Senate, supported. They included public campaign financing, an abortion rights provision, and tuition for children of undocumented immigrants, known as the Dream Act.

“Those are things that mean a lot to us and we want to get it done,” Klein said. “We feel the best way to achieve those results is by forming a new coalition.”

The Independent Democrats were also facing increasing heat from their own party to split from the GOP. Cuomo had promised the left-leaning Working Families Party, shortly before he received their nomination for reelection, that he would work to give control of the Senate back to the Democrats. Cuomo also said he would talk to the IDC about rejoining the Democrats.  

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has also been seeking a more progressive state legislature. Republicans in the Senate have blocked some of his key proposals, including gaining permission to raise the minimum wage in New York City higher than the state’s minimum hourly rate of pay. Cuomo and de Blasio had threatened to support primary challenges to IDC members, and several candidates had already announced campaigns against Klein and others.

Klein concedes there were growing political pressures, but he says the IDC withstood at least some of it. He says many had wanted his faction to be subsumed into the Senate's Democratic conference. He says that is not happening.

“We have to be very clear. We’re not saying that we're rejoining the Democratic conference,” Klein said. “The Independent Democratic Conference will live on. The IDC will remain intact. That’s something that’s very important to us.”

Senate Democrats say they are amenable to a coalition government with the IDC.  

Klein says the IDC will also continue to push for its own agenda, which includes paid family leave and better child care subsidies. He also won’t rule out working with the GOP again, or even someday, realigning with Republican senators. Klein says he’s proud of the work he did with the Senate Republicans.

“We put partisan bickering aside. We rolled up our sleeves,” said Klein. “We got things done.”

Klein says he still believes in bipartisan governing. He says just look at the gridlock in Washington to see where extreme partisanship can lead.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.