State Senator Malcolm Smith, representing southeast Queens, announced he joined the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in an allegiance with Republican representatives. This will possibly give the pact a tandem leadership of the chamber and stymie the Democrats, who seemingly took power in November’s election.
The tenured senator is now joining a coalition that will split power between two of the three sects in the Senate, with incumbent Senate Leader Dean Skelos switching every two weeks with Bronx IDC Senator Jeff Klein.
Klein’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Smith wants to focus more on policy than politicking, said spokesperson Hank Sheinkopf.
In 2009, two freshman Democrat state senators joined Republicans to vote for a change that would have effectively removed Smith as senate leader.
The two senators later retracted and sided back with Dems.
“As someone who has been a victim of a coup,” Sheinkopf said, “and has seen chaos, this would be the best way to ensure that there would be no chaos. He wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen again.”
The senator, whose district will no longer include the storm-ravaged Rockaways, wants to focus on better transit, among other issues concerning the state, Sheinkopf said.
Though Smith is joining a coalition that will be allied with Republican senators, Sheinkopf said Smith remains a Democrat.
And while some Democrats are cautiously optimistic, others are appalled by what is known of the plan so far. Senator Joseph Addabbo, one of the Queens senators in office during the 2009 leadership crisis, said the Senate is at a crossroads right now. If power is split between all three sects of the higher house, GOP, IDC and Democrats, then a true allied government could be productive. However, should there be what Addabbo called a continued blockage by Skelos against Democratic bills, constituents will suffer as a result and the progress of government will get nowhere.
The New York State Senate Democratic Conference released statements following the news of Smith’s move, and claimed Republicans ultimately hurt constituents by holding up the legislative process.
“This is not a coalition but a coup against all New Yorkers who voted for Democratic control of the Senate and a progressive state government,” said Democratic spokesperson Mike Murphy. “Sadly, the real victims of today’s announcement are the people of our state, whose clearly expressed desire for progress on a host of issues will now be scuttled.”
Senator Jose Peralta, also a candidate for borough president, said he always had a great relationship with Smith and looked forward to continuing that despite the move, focusing on borough-wide issues and doing whatever possible to enact legislation at the state level.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Senator Malcolm Smith in the legislature in Albany and in communities in Queens,” Peralta said. “While I am deeply disappointed that he will not be a member of the Senate Democratic Conference, I will work to keep open a line of communication between Senator Smith and the conference and am hopeful he will fight to enact long-overdue sensible gun legislation, raise the minimum wage, improve our schools and ensure access to decent, affordable housing for all New Yorkers.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo, in an editorial for the Albany Times-Union, noted that he would not support either side at this time, or discuss the actions of particular legislators.
He did note, however, that the Democrat-led senate, which held power from 2009 to 2011, had failed to pass much legislation and cited leadership crises during that time. In addition, the governor listed what legislation he supported, including a minimum wage increase and reform to the much-discussed stop-and-frisk policy.
“The Democratic Conference was in power for two years and squandered the opportunity, failing to pass any meaningful reform legislation despite repeated promises,” he wrote. “The Democratic Conference dysfunction was legendary and the current leadership has failed to come to a cooperative agreement with Mr. Klein’s IDC faction.”
Murphy, in a statement responding to the op-ed, said the governor’s agenda was almost a match to members of the conference. Democratic senators, he said, would continue to fight for New Yorkers’ wants and needs and jeer the Republicans for any missteps in constituents’ needs.
“The governor has now presented a similar agenda including many issues the new Republican Coalition has opposed,” he said. “Senate Democrats will continue to lead the fight on this progressive agenda, and we will hold the Senate Republican Coalition accountable until New Yorkers get the progressive change they deserve.”