As New York Democrats, the upcoming primary in our district may be the most important election we will ever have, as it is crucial for restoring our majority in the state senate.
Because of the assault on so many basic rights coming from Washington, having a Democratic legislature in New York is more important than ever. In other words, this election is a way to fight Trump in our own backyard.
Like so many of you, I’ve been voting for the incumbent, Sen. Jeff Klein, for many years. I thought that I was electing a Democrat, and frankly, not paying much attention to state politics. Sen. Klein’s entire career — and especially these last seven years — has banked on voters like me not paying attention.
Have you ever wondered why New York State can’t seem to manage to pass the Women’s Reproductive Health Act, the climate bill, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (LGBTQ rights), health care reform, housing reform, the SAFE Act (gun control), or the Dream Act? Why should a blue state, with a Democratic governor, have trouble making progressive legislation happen?
It turns out that most of these bills sail through the state Assembly. The problem is in the senate, where Sen. Klein is responsible for weakening Democratic power.
As you’ve probably heard by now, in 2011, Klein created the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, which now includes eight Democratic senators. Less than independent — and certainly not Democratic — this group caucuses with the Republicans, handing over what would have been Democratic control to them. As a result, the Republicans — who’ve been able to hold on to the senate majority ever since — are the ones who get to decide what comes to a vote.
One of the reasons that the IDC has been great for Sen. Klein is that it has allowed him to evade accountability to his constituents. He could say that he supported the climate bill, or women’s health issues, knowing that the Republican majority that he empowers will never let progressive legislation come to a vote.
Are you confused yet? That’s part of the equation, too. If you call Sen. Klein’s office to ask if he supports a particular issue, make sure you ask the follow-up questions: Will he co-sponsor the bill? What will he do to make sure it gets to the floor?
These are the questions he doesn’t want you to ask. Klein has preyed on the complexity of state politics to confuse constituents who believed they had an advocate in the senate.
When Gov. Cuomo forced the IDC to disband a few months ago, that wasn’t the first time. Klein promised to do away with it in 2014 when he was facing a tough primary opponent. But when he won his seat again, the IDC was back in business. And just like Klein had banked on, most of us weren’t paying attention.
And when I say “banked on,” I don’t mean metaphorically. The IDC received all sorts of illegal goodies for their arrangement. Most recently, the IDC received money from an Independence Party committee that Klein chaired, even though he is a Democrat. A judge ruled that those funds were raised illegally, but Klein is still using them as part of his war chest.
When I first started paying attention to all of this after Trump was elected, I was outraged. Honestly, I probably would’ve voted for any Democratic Klein challenger. But we in District 34 are extremely lucky. As we’ve learned from other recent “blue wave” upsets, unseating politically entrenched opponents requires having an excellent candidate.
We have that in Alessandra Biaggi.
Alessandra worked for Hillary Clinton — and not in a small way. She was her deputy national operations director, overseeing a $500 million budget. Afterward, she worked for Gov. Cuomo, focusing on women’s health, and health and human services initiatives across multi-state agencies.
All of that experience shows. Having worked in Albany, Alessandra understands what’s not working and why. We didn’t just find a challenger, we found an unbelievably competent, passionate, experienced person for the job — one with endorsements from more than 60 progressive organizations.
And that person happens to be a woman — the first to run for this seat. Ever.
Not long ago, some of us helping out with the campaign were asked what we appreciated most about Alessandra. One of my neighbors said, “I like that she’s real.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Alessandra is honest and approachable. If you haven’t had a chance to meet her in person yet, you’ll likely run into her in the coming days. This is a grassroots, people-powered campaign, and Alessandra has been hitting the pavement non-stop all summer.
Klein is nowhere to be seen, and many of us hope that’s a good sign of what’s to come.