At a rally last Thursday at Foley Square, the challengers vowed to fight on despite the recently announced unity deal between the mainline Democrats and the IDC, a breakaway group of Democratic state senators that previously had a power-sharing agreement with Republicans.
“I’m very much still in this race,” said Jessica Ramos, who is challenging State Senator Jose Peralta in Queens. “We will clean up the mess they left behind.”
Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo convened with the leader of the mainline Democrats, Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester, and the leader of the IDC, Jeff Klein from the Bronx. In a joint press conference announcing the unity pact, all three stressed the importance of having a united front against threats from the federal government.
“You’re all in the same ship together, you can fight over the cabins,” Cuomo said. “But when the ship is going down, what cabin you’re in doesn’t matter anymore. If we don’t do something, the ship goes down.”
As part of the deal, the IDC will dissolve and merge back with the Democratic conference. Stewart-Cousins will be the sole leader of the group, while Klein will be her deputy.
In return, the senators, along with Cuomo and others in the state Democratic party, will not support the IDC challengers.
The Democratic conference, including the eight former IDC members, now has 31 members. That’s not still not enough to form a majority in the State Senate, which would require 32 members.
The wild card in the equation is Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans. Felder has indicated in the past that he’s willing to join any conference that has the majority.
Cuomo, who called Felder “the question mark,” noted that the Brooklyn senator comes from a more conservative district, and has different philosophical views than most Democrats in the conference.
There are also two vacant State Senate seats that will be filled with an April 24th special election.
Cuomo said he called for IDC-Democratic conference unity in light of the coming election, which he hopes will be won by Democrats.
“It wasn’t simple,” he said of the reunification. “Things come at the time that they’re ready to come.”
State Democratic Party leaders, including Congressman Joseph Crowley, initially put a unity deal on the table last November. Under that separate deal, the IDC would have reunited with the Democratic conference, but Klein would have been co-leader with Stewart-Cousins.
Cuomo said they “accelerated” the timetable for unity specifically because of the upcoming special election.
“The special election is the driving force,” he said. “It’s all about getting Democrats in. I’m all in.”
Klein, the original architect of the IDC, said he came to this moment knowing “we must all make sacrifices.” He said he believes after the November election the Democrats will have 33 or 34 seats in the chamber.
“We have to win seats in November,” Klein said. “We have to come back with a strong majority.”
In the aftermath of the unity announcement, Cuomo’s primary challenger, actress Cynthia Nixon, took some credit for the end of the IDC.
“If you’ve set your own house on fire and watched it burn for eight years, finally turning on a hose doesn’t make you a hero,” she said in a statement.
The next day, challengers to the IDC state senators also promised to move ahead with their primaries. Ramos said she was happy to see Stewart-Cousins finally be the sole leader of the conference, but the timing of the deal was “completely off.”
“The damage is done, the budget just passed,” Ramos said. “It was a regressive budget that doesn’t offer any support for our Dreamers, any supporter for renters, for our public school students.”
She criticized her opponent, Peralta, as a “Trump Democrat” who could leave the conference again.
“Today, he’s saying he’s a Democrat, but we don’t know what he will be tomorrow,” she said. “That’s a big problem.”
In a statement, Peralta said given the election of Donald Trump, his constituents have been constantly under attack.
“This is why it is vital for all Democrats to work and fight together to protect all New Yorkers,” he said. “Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, we will be able to promote our values and ensure our progressive common agenda moves forward.”
John Duane, who is taking on State Senator Tony Avella in northeast Queens, said while he’s celebrating the end of the IDC, he wants to make sure the group “stays crushed.”
“The reason I feel these campaigns must continue is because we’ve seen in the past that they make accommodations for their own convenience, and then they just go ahead and do what they want to do anyway, and ignore the will of the people,” Duane said. “That’s got to stop.”
The Little Neck resident and former assemblyman said his campaign will focus on codifying abortion rights, campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform and other progressive issues.
“This should’ve happened eight years ago, but it’s happening now. We have to stand on this momentum and keep moving forward,” he said. “This is our State Senate. Together, we will take it back.”
Zellnor Myrie, who is challenging IDC senator Jesse Hamilton in central Brooklyn, mocked the reunification as the “Democratic Primary Discouragement Act.” He said the announcement has “no effect” on his campaign.
“Our race was never predicated on the IDC, it was really about the issues,” Myrie said.
Myrie said he wants to focus on improving regulations for renters, bail reform and fully funding public schools.
“The truth is, Jesse Hamilton’s allegiance with the IDC has blocked the reforms,” Myrie said. “We are comparing records, but it remains focused on the issues, not just the insider baseball of IDC.”