Independent Democratic Conference
|Conference Leader||Jeffrey D. Klein|
|Deputy Conference Leader||David J. Valesky|
|Conference Whip||David Carlucci|
|Conference Liaison to the Executive Branch||Diane Savino|
|Assistant Conference Leader for Policy and Administration||Tony Avella|
|Founded||January 5, 2011|
|Dissolved||April 16, 2018|
|Split from||Democratic Party of New York|
|Merged into||Democratic Party of New York|
|Seats in the State Senate|
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The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) was a group of Democratic members of the New York State Senate that caucused separately from other Democratic members of the State Senate. At the time of its dissolution in April 2018, the IDC included eight members: Leader Jeffrey D. Klein and Senators Marisol Alcantara, Tony Avella, David Carlucci, Jesse Hamilton, Jose Peralta, Diane Savino, and David Valesky. "Independent Democrat" is not a recognized political party in New York State; members of the conference have appeared on the ballot as Democrats. Formed in 2011, the IDC allied itself with Senate Republicans throughout its existence. During the 2013-2014 legislative session, the IDC and the Senate Republican Conference controlled the Senate jointly, as the Senate Republicans did not have sufficient numbers to form a governing majority on their own.
On April 4, 2018, the IDC announced that it would dissolve, that its members would rejoin the Senate Democratic Conference, and that Klein would become the Deputy Democratic Conference Leader. On April 16, the IDC was dissolved. In the subsequent September 13, 2018 Democratic primaries, six of the eight former IDC members were defeated; only Carlucci and Savino won their respective primary contests.
The Democratic Party took control of the New York State Senate from the Republican Party in the November 2008 elections for the first time since 1964, controlling 32 out of the chambers' 62 seats. However, four Democratic senators, Pedro Espada Jr., Rubén Díaz Sr., Carl Kruger, and Hiram Monserrate did not support the Democratic Leader, Malcolm Smith. In the new session, Espada and Monserrate voted against Smith as Majority Leader. Monserrate rejoined the Democrats, leaving a deadlocked 31-31 Senate, causing the 2009 New York State Senate leadership crisis. Jeffrey D. Klein, who became the Deputy Majority Leader after the 2008 elections, was charged with keeping Espada, Diaz, Kruger, and Monserrate in the Democratic coalition.
Following the leadership crisis, Republicans won control of the chamber in the November 2010 elections. In the fallout of the 2010 elections, Democrats replaced Klein as their chief strategist in December 2010. Klein stepped down as deputy minority leader in January 2011, citing disagreements with John L. Sampson, the Minority Leader of the State Senate.
On January 5, 2011, Klein, along with three other Democratic senators (Diane Savino, David J. Valesky, and David Carlucci), announced the formation of a caucus within the State Senate called the Independent Democratic Conference. The four senators indicated that they no longer approved of Sampson's leadership. Sampson offered the IDC members minor roles on committees, and Klein reached out to Dean Skelos, the Republican leader. Skelos agreed to give the four members chairmanships of standing committees. Democratic senators, including Ruth Hassell-Thompson, criticized Klein for leaving the campaign committee in debt and for allegedly following his own personal ambitions.
In the November 2012 elections, Democrats won a majority of seats in the State Senate. Following the election, the IDC formed a bipartisan coalition with the Senate Republican Conference that enabled the two conferences to jointly control the Senate despite the Democrats' numerical majority. Under their power-sharing arrangement, the IDC and the Senate Republicans to "jointly decide what bills [would] reach the Senate floor each day of the session", would "dole out committee assignments", would "have the power to make appointments to state and local boards", and would "share negotiations over the state budget". Sens. Klein and Skelos also agreed that the title of Senate President would shift back and forth between the two of them every two weeks.
In December 2012, the IDC also recruited Malcolm Smith to join its ranks. This move was part of a failed attempt by Smith to secure the Republican line in the New York City mayoral election; Smith was later found to have involved illegal bribery, which led to his expulsion from the IDC on April 14, 2013 and his eventual conviction on federal corruption charges.
Liberal activists working with the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party targeted Klein and Avella during the Democratic primary elections in September 2014, with Oliver Koppell challenging Klein and John Liu challenging Avella. Due to pressure from Governor Andrew Cuomo and labor unions, Klein indicated in June 2014 that the IDC would rejoin the Democratic caucus after the November 2014 elections. Still, the IDC supported Betty Jean Grant's unsuccessful primary challenge against Democratic Senator Timothy M. Kennedy because of Grant's pro-choice political stance. Klein and Avella won their respective primaries.
In the 2014 general election, Republicans won back the Senate majority. The election results meant that Klein lost his position as co-leader, with Skelos taking over as the Senate Majority Leader and Temporary President of the Senate and regaining sole control over which bills would reach the Senate floor. Though the new Democratic leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, had continued discussions with Klein about the IDC rejoining the Democrats, the IDC members decided to remain allied with the Republicans in the 2015 legislative session despite their conference's diminished role.
During the 2015 session, the IDC successfully pushed the Republicans to include paid family leave and a $15 per hour minimum wage in the state budget. Klein also pushed for more funding to the New York City Housing Authority, and obtained $100 million. During Skelos' 2015 trial for corruption, a wiretapped conversation was aired where Skelos argued that in their power sharing agreement, the IDC would have no real power and it would serve to hinder Democrats by keeping them divided. Klein indicated that this recording would not change the IDC agreement with Republicans.
After some of its members faced primary challenges in 2014, the IDC formed its own campaign committee through an agreement with the Independence Party of New York. Heading into the November 2016 elections, Klein would not commit to rejoining the Senate Democratic Conference. After the elections, newly-elected senator Marisol Alcantara and second-term senator Jesse Hamilton joined the IDC. Despite pressure from liberal activists to unite the 24 mainstream Democrats with the IDC and Felder to form a 32-member majority, and despite attempts by Stewart-Cousins to involve Cuomo in the situation, the IDC and Felder continued their relationships with the 31 Senate Republicans, giving Republicans the majority in the 2017 legislative session. In January 2017, Jose Peralta joined the IDC.
In January 2017, following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the Senate Democratic Conference and grassroots activists (including members of Rise and Resist and several Indivisible groups) stepped up their criticism of the IDC for splitting the Democratic vote in the State Senate and enabling Republicans to maintain control of the chamber.
In early May 2017, it was revealed that members of the IDC, among them Savino and Peralta, received stipends ("lulus") normally reserved only for chairmen of committees, who, in these cases, were Republicans. The payments appear to have been approved by Republican leadership in the State Senate. It later emerged that this was also made possible through the actions of staff who falsely listed the members of the IDC as committee chairmen. The scandal was investigated by the New York Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Attorney for Brooklyn; as of March 2018 (roughly a year later) the status of that inquiry was not known. At the time, the members of the IDC continued to refuse attempts by the Democratic Party to have the conference join with the "mainstream" Democratic Conference completely or in a coalition.
On May 24, 2017, Senator Simcha Felder, the only Democrat (outside the IDC) who caucused with and voted for the Republican leadership, wrote a letter to the IDC urging that they rejoin the mainline Democrats; the letter suggested that Felder might rejoin the Democratic Conference himself if the IDC did so.
On April 4, 2018, the IDC announced that it would dissolve, that its members would rejoin the Senate Democratic Conference, and that Senator Klein would become the Deputy Democratic Conference Leader. The announcement followed a meeting called by Governor Andrew Cuomo at which Cuomo requested that the IDC reunite with the Senate Democratic Conference. On April 16, the IDC was dissolved.
Following the dissolution of the IDC, Avella, Alcantara, Carlucci and Hamilton were all stripped of their committee chairships by Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan. In addition, 39 IDC staffers were laid off, and Klein was required to move out of his office suite and relinquish his state vehicle. Despite their return to the Senate Democratic Conference, all eight former members of the IDC faced challengers in the 2018 Democratic primaries.
In June 2018, a trial court judge found the IDC's fundraising arrangement with the Independence Party illegal. On July 20, 2018, the New York State Board of Elections directed the eight former members of the IDC to return all contributions they had received from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee.
2018 State Senate elections
In the September 13, 2018 Democratic primary elections, all eight former members of the IDC at the time of its dissolution faced challengers. Six were defeated, attributed to backlash against the former IDC: John Liu defeated Avella, Robert Jackson defeated Alcantara, Alessandra Biaggi defeated Klein, Jessica Ramos defeated Peralta, Zellnor Myrie defeated Hamilton, and Rachel May defeated Valesky. Carlucci and Savino won renomination.
As part of New York's electoral fusion laws allowing candidates to run on multiple ballot lines in an election, each of the six defeated IDC candidates appeared on the ballot for the November 6, 2018 general election on at least one third-party line. All six were endorsed by the Independence Party of New York; Avella, Valesky, Hamilton and Peralta were endorsed by the Women's Equality Party of New York, and Peralta was endorsed by the Reform Party of New York State. However, most of the six defeated senators suspended their reelection campaigns after the primary election; Avella was the only one to announce that he would continue to run in the general election. Although Avella appeared on the Women's Equality Party ballot line, after his primary loss to John Liu, the party, created by Governor Cuomo, announced that it was supporting Liu instead. In the November general election, all six were defeated by the same challengers who had done so in the primary; Carlucci and Savino were reelected.
- Jeffrey D. Klein, Independent Democratic Conference Leader & Majority Coalition Leader
- David J. Valesky, Deputy Independent Democratic Conference Leader for Legislative Operations
- David Carlucci, Independent Democratic Conference Whip
- Diane Savino, Independent Democratic Conference Liaison to the Executive Branch
- Tony Avella, Assistant Conference Leader for Policy and Administration
- Jose Peralta
- Jesse Hamilton
- Marisol Alcantara
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