But despite what basic math and common sense would dictate, the GOP retained control of the Senate, and still holds it to this day. So how did such an utterly nonsensical turn of events come to pass?
Two words, and remember them well: Jeff Klein.
Klein is a state senator—and a self-described "progressive" Democrat—who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, including the well-to-do neighborhood of Riverdale. Klein served as deputy majority leader during the brief period from 2009-10 when Democrats ran the Senate, the first time they'd done so since the 1950s. It was a chaotic time, marred by dysfunction, and while there was plenty of blame to go around, Klein, as the party's second in command, bore a considerable share of responsibility.
Please read below the fold for more on this story.
But when the going got tough after Republicans recaptured the Senate in 2010, Klein didn't stick around to help rebuild his party from the inside. Along with three other alleged Democrats (David Valesky, David Carlucci, and Diane Savino), Klein broke away from his caucus to create the so-called Independent Democratic Conference, a group whose sole purpose was to suck up to the GOP.
Klein, who'd always been interested in power for its own sake, was never going to be named leader of his own party after the debacles of the prior two years, so instead, he went over to the Republicans to further his own political ambitions. In exchange, he received (among other things) a custom-carved district—just check out the remarkable lines on that thing—in the hopes of protecting himself from a primary challenge.
But abandonment was just Klein's first step into darkness. The true betrayal came next. As Barack Obama convincingly won re-election and carried New York handily, Democrats captured 33 seats in the state Senate; the GOP, meanwhile, held on to just 30, despite a map they'd gerrymandered for their own advantage. One conservative Democrat (Simcha Felder, who represents one of the reddest districts in the chamber) sided with the Republicans with little hesitation, but that still left Democrats with a 32-31 majority.
Until Klein and his IDC cut a deal with the devil, handing the minority Republicans control of the chamber in exchange for personal perks, committee chairmanships, and for Klein himself, the lofty title of "Co-Leader and President Pro Tempore" of the Senate, which he shares with Republican head honcho Dean Skelos. (The two quickly earned an epithet worthy of Brangelina: Skleinos.)
Stunningly, Klein claimed that he was "not empowering a Republican majority," even though he'd done exactly that. He further insisted that his buddies in the GOP were "committed to seeing major pieces of progressive legislation pass the Senate."
Klein wasn't laughing when he uttered those words, though everyone else was—archly. And just how full of shit was he? Here's just a small sampling of the progressive priorities that mainstream Democrats are prepared to pass, but that Klein's puppeteer, Skelos, has stymied in the Senate:
• The Women's Equality Act, a 10-point plan that would, among other things, safeguard reproductive rights and strengthen equal-pay-for-equal-work lawsAnd how about some of the stuff "Skleinos" has supported?
• Meaningful campaign finance reform
• Paid family leave for medical emergencies or the birth of a child
• The state DREAM Act
• A bill to increase the revenues of cigarette wholesalersWow! That's a progressive agenda to make Tom DeLay proud! And yet Klein, in a tragicomic bit of self-deception, still considers himself "a very good Democrat." Of course, no one else on planet reality does, and fortunately, someone who is well positioned to do something about this sordid state of affairs agrees.
• Legislation to allow payday lenders to charge 200 percent interest—eight times the current limits
• A law requiring the governor to arbitrarily eliminate 1,000 regulations
• A resolution that would have defunded the state's health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act
That would be former New York City Councilman Oliver Koppell, a lifelong public servant who hails from Klein's backyard, and whose progressive bona fides are without question. And just like any sane Democrat ought to be, he's white-hot furious at Klein:
"I want to run against Jeff Klein not because I want to be state senator—I had 23 years in Albany in the state legislature; it's not that something I hunger for—but what Jeff Klein has done is traitorous, it's betrayal not only of the Democratic Party, it's betrayal of the Democratic philosophy, of the Democratic objectives."Koppell hasn't yet committed to challenging Klein in the September primary, though it certainly sounds like he wants to. But it will take Koppell a lot of money, and don't forget about Klein's bespoke Senate district, designed to carefully Tetris together his political base. (The good news: It's safely blue.) There are also many union leaders who are steamed at Klein but fear his wrath; they'll need to be convinced that Koppell can truly put an end to Klein's self-serving rebellion.
Koppell will also need serious support from grassroots progressives—from folks like us, in other words. We need to send a message not just to Klein and the IDC, but to wayward Democrats everywhere: If you betray your values and lie down with Republicans for personal gain, you'll pay the ultimate price. We can work together to get rid of Klein, and make sure no one follows in his footsteps.
And to Oliver Koppell, our message is also simple: If you're ready, we've got your back. Let's do this thing.