While New York is a heavily Democratic state, the GOP has run the state Senate almost nonstop for decades. Democrats actually won a nominal 32-31 majority in 2016, but the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference continues to keep the Republican leadership in power, while a ninth Democrat, Simcha Felder, outright caucuses with the GOP. The Republican-led chamber has spent years blocking progressive policies like a state-level DREAM Act, which would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrant students.
However, Trump’s presidency has left Democratic activists far less patient with politicians who help the Republicans, and after a protracted budget battle, other state Democrats are looking to unseat some IDC members in Democratic primaries. In a recent Times Union article, Chris Bragg took a look at who might challenge members of the IDC in primaries. To help follow along, Stephen Wolf has created an interactive map, which each Senate seat colored based on whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump won it, and whether the seat is held by a Republican, a mainstream Democrat, an IDC member, or a Simcha Felder. You can find the 2012 and 2016 presidential results for each seat here.
The most vulnerable member may be Queens state Sen. Tony Avella, who represents a seat that Clinton carried 61-36. In 2014, the Queens Democratic Party made a serious effort to oust Avella, but ex-
state city Comptroller John Liu lost the primary 53-47. Avella is currently running against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this year, but he has little money or support. In the event that Avella sticks around to defend his seat, he may face a rematch with Liu, whom Bragg reports is considering another bid. City Councilman Paul Vallone has also been mentioned as a possible candidate, while fellow Councilor Rory Lancman didn’t rule out his own campaign, though he said it was unlikely. In New York it only takes a plurality of the vote to win a primary, so in any of these contests, it would be a nightmare for mainstream Democrats if too many candidates run and split the vote.
Another top target will likely be freshman state Sen. Marisol Alcantara, who holds a Washington Heights seat that gave Clinton an enormous 91-7 margin. Last year, Alcantara narrowly won a three-way primary with IDC support. One of her former rivals, ex-Councilor Robert Jackson, reportedly is planning to run again, while the other is unlikely to seek this seat in 2018. However, as Bragg notes, there’s a lot more at play than the IDC vs. mainstream Democrats. This seat has large black and Latino primary voting blocs; Jackson’s base is with African-American voters, while Alcantara's is with Latinos.
Early this year two Democratic incumbents from safely blue New York City seats, Jose Peralta and Jesse Hamilton, defected to the IDC, and local activists were not happy. Bragg reports that Jessica Ramos, a de Blasio press aide, is considering facing Peralta in his Queens seat; however, she has a “complicated relationship” with the county party. Over in Hamilton’s Brooklyn seat, Assemblywoman Diana Richardson is mentioned as a possible candidate. But local intra-Democratic splits may also play a big role here. Hamilton is close to borough president Eric Adams, who has a huge rivalry with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. Richardson is close to Jeffries, and if she runs, this primary could become a proxy war between the two prominent Brooklyn politicians.
Two IDC members hail from north of New York City, and they may also face challengers. In David Carlucci’s seat, which includes part of Westchester and Rockland Counties, Bragg mentions Clarkstown Councilor Stephanie Hausner as a possible candidate. This seat backed Clinton 54-43, not as solid as the New York City seats, but still blue enough that mainstream Democrats should be able to hold it. In David Valesky’s Syracuse-area district, Bragg says that termed-out Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is being encouraged to run. Miner is a rival of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who hasn’t made it any secret that he’s fine with the GOP running the chamber. Clinton won 54-40 here.
Even if those six IDC members are replaced with mainstream Democrats, Team Blue will have a lot of work to do to actually regain the chamber. IDC leader Jeff Klein decisively survived his 2014 primary, and fellow member Diane Savino (who is also Klein’s girlfriend) also looks more secure. Additionally, Felder is in a class of his own. Trump won his Brooklyn seat 53-45, and Felder, a popular local politician who won both parties nominations in 2016, may just be untouchable. The GOP also only needs to pick up one seat to control the Senate regardless of what Felder and the IDC do.
Still, Democrats will want to give as many IDC members as possible a tough time. Up until now, the IDC has only been adding members, and mainstream Democrats need to show that there are consequences to abandoning the party. Additionally, nine Republicans sit in Senate seats that Clinton won, while others hold districts that Trump only narrowly carried. If 2018 goes well, Democrats may be able to replace enough IDC and GOP members to win an outright majority and have the chance to enact serious progressive reforms in New York.