Rogue Democrats disband, but some question motives

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State Sen. Jeffrey Klein’s Independent Democratic Conference — the breakaway group of Democrats that has caucused with senate Republicans since 2011 — may have disbanded, but Klein’s critics in the party’s progressive wing are saying too little, too late, the damage is done.

And they’re not buying the break-up as a genuine token of Klein’s commitment to reunite with mainline Democrats.

The end of the IDC caught Alessandra Biaggi by surprise. She’s gunning for Klein’s seat as a Democrat, using his pact with Republicans as a rally cry. Yet, even with Klein and his seven other IDC members rejoining Democrats, Biaggi isn’t convinced long-stalled initiatives like the Child Victims Act, early voting and stronger abortion protections will finally move forward.

“I think it’s very clear that the individuals who are and were members of the IDC do not prioritize progressive legislation,” Biaggi said. “They can say that they do until the end of time, but their words do not match their actions, and they have had seven years to prove to us all in New York state — as well as, in my case, in the 34th district — that they actually do care about those things. But they have not made them a priority.”

The IDC reportedly dissolved last week after Gov. Andrew Cuomo met with Klein and Democratic senate leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for lunch in Manhattan. Klein had originally agreed last year to push IDC to caucus with Democrats in exchange for the party not fielding or supporting primary challengers. But Cuomo apparently pushed for the IDC to go away altogether. 

“I think that they are worried about losing their jobs,” Biaggi said. And even with a reunification, that’s still possible. 

“The biggest joy from this is that Jeff Klein got his hand caught in the cookie jar, and he did that because he’s been exposed now for trading away control of the state senate to the GOP,” Biaggi said.

Andrew Mutnick, co-leader of the IDC Action Group — an offshoot of progressive advocacy group NYCD16-Indivisible — says the timing of the IDC’s dissolution is telling.

“Why this moment?” Mutnick asked. “I think it’s pretty clear that this is not about unity and not about ‘all Democrats have to come together.’ This is about Jeff Klein and all of the IDC members seeing real primary challenges.”

But the governor also is feeling the heat.

“Andrew Cuomo has got a challenge on his left flank” from former “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon, Mutnick said, “and they are trying to choke off that opposition.”

“The progressive wing — and I think even just informed Democratic voters — are not going to fall for this, are not buying this, are not seeing this as a genuine move that is motivated by ideals,” he said.

Klein wouldn’t answer questions from The Riverdale Press about the reunification, but issued a statement saying he, Cuomo and Stewart-Cousins are “united in our commitment to bring together the New York state Democratic Party and all senate Democrats, with the common goal of protecting the people of New York state and solving the state’s most challenging problems.”

While Biaggi remains optimistic about her primary prospects, Ira Bloom — professor of political science at Lehman College — wasn’t so sure.

“I think to some extent it will probably blunt some of the primary challengers against at least some of the IDC members,” Bloom said, but “not necessarily all of them.”

One of the challengers in Queens — Bloom declined to specify which — “may have more prospects of continuing on fairly strongly,” because “there seems to be more pressure there, more antagonism, maybe, from what I’m sensing.”

Two IDC members represent Queens — Tony Avella and Jose Peralta. Avella has drawn a challenge from attorney John Duane, the brother of the senate’s first openly gay member, Thomas Duane. 

Peralta is in the middle of a three-person race that includes former Bill de Blasio press aide Jessica Ramos, and Andrea Marra, who wants to become the senate’s first transgender member.

Whether it would affect Biaggi — who probably has the toughest road ahead of her going against the former IDC leader — is too early to tell. And as Biaggi sees it, the time to fight is now.

“The political currency of our time is not only money, it is people,” Biaggi said. “The movement of people is not with the establishment. People are clearly fed up with the way that things have always gone.”

While the dissolution of the IDC may be a first step toward a more progressive state, Biaggi says there’s still a lot of work to do.

“But there is hope,” she said. “The future of the Democratic Party is not Jeff Klein, and not the other IDC members. It is myself and all of the challengers to these individuals who are not putting ourselves first, but we’re putting the community first.”

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