Jun 18th - 4:49 pm
Organizers of a protest outside of Senate IDC Leader Jeff Klein’s office say 21 people were arrested by State Policy and charged with disorderly conduct this afternoon as efforts continue to blast the four-member faction after several high-profile, causes important for the state’s political left failed this session.
The protest was really a voltron of liberal political issues that had been supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but failed in the coalition-led Senate, ranging from strengthening the state’s abortion laws to public financing of political campaigns and the creation of a Dream Act for the children of undocumented immigrants.
Among those arrested are some of the most familiar faces at the Capitol who lobby for those causes, including Citizen Action’s Jess Wisneski and Stephen Pampinella and Michael Kink, the executive director f Strong Economy for All and a former aide for the Senate Democrats.
“The Senate’s coalition leadership has only expanded Albany’s dysfunction,” said Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York. “The IDC promised progressive legislation, but it’s clear they’re not willing to fight for it lest they jeopardize their own perks of leadership. Albany has proven to be a disgrace once again and if they ever want to be trusted again by New Yorkers, they should vote now on a Fair Elections bill.”
Advocates for the state’s women’s agenda and public financing of political campaigns have largely blamed Klein, who entered into the power-sharing agreement with Senate Republicans late last year, for the failure of those measures.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos staunchly opposes both public financing and holding a vote on the abortion provision in the package of women’s bills.
Klein has maintained the votes for both abortion and public financing aren’t available.
The protest also drew scorn from spokesmen for the Republicans and IDC.
Eric Soufer, the IDC spokesman, tweeted: “Barricading a door so that junior staffers can’t leave their office isn’t civil disobedience. It’s idiocy.”
Jun 17th - 6:20 pm
It’s all about the votes.
That’s what Senate IDC Leader Jeff Klein is holding to as a rather significant roadblock to the passage of the entire women’s agenda as introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Klein, who along with his breakaway faction of Democratic senators met privately with Cuomo earlier today, reiterated the votes in the Senate aren’t available to include the abortion provision.
If that were the case, the pacakge would have passed alongside the budget, Klein said.
“We’re all about getting votes,” Klein told reporters before a leaders meeting with Cuomo. ”The magic number is 32. If we had 32 votes for the 10 points we wouldn’t be having this conversation, we would have passed it probably six months ago as part of the budget.”
Klein added that his conference is the “only conference that is all pro-choice.”
Senate Democrats have at least one member — Sen. Ruben Diaz — who would vote against the measure. Sen. John Bonacic, a Republican, confirmed today he would vote no on the abortion language if it’s put before him.
“We stand behind a woman’s right to choose,” Klein said. ”I would love to see al 10 points pass as well as the five points the Independent Democratic Conference is pushing.”
Klein has been under mounting pressure from women’s groups and Cuomo to force a vote on the legislation after he introduced a package that included nine of the 10 points Cuomo is pushing.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters post-leaders meeting that he expects to take up the full women’s agenda. The Assembly, unlike the Senate, has a large Democratic majority.
Jun 17th - 11:27 am
Senate IDC Leader Leader Jeff Klein this morning ruled out the possibility of his chamber passing a provision designed to update and strengthen the state’s abortion laws, but pledged the other nine planks in the women’s agenda will be considered.
The statement comes after a weekend of television ads aired in Klein’s district urging him to take up the full agenda, which includes a measure supporters say codifies Roe versus Wade but is staunchly opposed by abortion opponents.
Klein comes to the conclusion that “the votes just are not there” to pass the abortion component in the coalition-led Senate.
“This a comprehensive, progressive package that ensures pay equity for women in the private and public sector, guarantees working mothers real paid maternity leave, and finally provides every New York family with the help they need to afford quality child care. We encourage the Governor and the Assembly to give swift consideration to all of these proposals this week.
“The legislative process is the art of negotiation. We are prepared to do nine of the ten points and believe that women should not be forced to wait any longer for progress on these important issues. As we have made clear, all four members of the IDC remain steadfast in their support of a woman’s right to choose. Throughout this legislative session, I have yet to encounter a single pro-choice Republican to make up for the few right to life members of the Senate Democratic Conference. The IDC would like nothing more than to bring this provision to the floor, but the votes just are not there.”
Klein, along with the other three members of the IDC, had been under pressure from abortion-rights groups and other members of the coalition assembled to promote and boost the women’s agenda, which includes anti-discrimination measures for women in the workplace and housing, along with anti-trafficking legislation.
Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican lawmaker, had been one of the last possible GOP “yes” votes on the abortion piece. But Senate Republicans, including Bonacic, rejected last week a possible amendment that would explicitly rule out partial-birth abortion.
Jun 10th - 12:46 pm
Sen. Diane Savino sent a letter to top legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week urging them to not support any changes to the state’s Scaffold Law.
“New York must maintain a robust Scaffold Law in its current form,” Savino wrote in the letter. “The Scaffold Law protects construction workers by requiring commonsense safety measures at thousands of worksites across the state and is time test. The Law incentivizes safety best practices that keep workers safe and ultimately cut down costs.”
The letter dated June 7 was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sens. Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Altering or full repeal of the measure is supported by several prominent business lobbies in New York, but opposed by labor organizations.
The letter comes as Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, faces increasing pressure alongisde the rest of the IDC for getting a floor vote on variety of end-of-session measures like the abortion plank in the women’s agend and the public financing of political campaigns. Both measures face staunch Republican opposition.
Jun 3rd - 2:38 pm
Gun control was a test. The minimum wage increase was a test. New tests are public financing and strengthening the state’s abortion laws.
The Independent Democratic Conference is perhaps getting a little tired of being told each liberal cause up for a vote is a “test” of their power in the Senate.
Today Sen. Diane Savino is having a little fun with the whole “test” theory of governing, sending along this picture.
Meanwhile, in an interview with our NY1 colleague Zack Fink, the Staten Island Democrat took issue with the idea that there should be a “litmus test” for the women’s agenda.
“I would not say the abortion issue is overblown,” Savino said. “Protecting a woman’s right to decide for herself and her family will never be overblown. I hope they don’t get lost in what’s now been determined to be a political litmus test. If you’re not for it, then you’re opposed to all the other issues that I’ve just outlined. That would be a real tragedy.”
Savino has been the target of both the effort to publicly finance campaigns and to enhance the state’s abortion rights.
She supports both, but the campaigns specifically taking on Savino seems designed to both tweak the IDC’s coalition government with the Senate GOP and spur them to get the bills on the floor for a vote.
“Apparently I’m responsible for everything this week,” Savino said smiling. “It’s a responsbility that I’m happy to accept.”
Savino added she believes the abortion provision — which codifies Roe v. Wade on the state level — is needed to in order to protect New York’s laws.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about this particular issue,” she said. “Why do we need this in New York? Well, all one has to do is look at what happening in some of the really conservative parts of this country where we have legislators, mostly male legislators, passing laws, signing them into law in those states, further making restrictions on a woman’s right to make decisions for herself and her family.”
May 1st - 1:33 pm
ICYMI, this was in today’s morning memo:
There’s a lot of activity surrounding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act, with advocates and opponents of abortion rights engaged in an intense battle over what they think the governor might propose.
Other than the fact that Cuomo said during his State of the State address that his 10-point plan would include the Reproductive Health Act – a measure that was originally proposed by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer – and then subsequently walked that back, no one has any idea what the governor has in mind because he has so far declined to introduce any bill language.
Women’s rights activists who have been working behind closed doors with the administration on draft legislation say they’re close to an actual bill.
In the meantime, however, all the talk going on is merely political posturing. The blame game is already starting to take shape in the event that a sufficient number of votes to pass whatever the governor ends up proposing fails to materialize in the closely divided Senate.
The women’s groups and their allies blame the Senate Republicans for being too conservative and “out of touch” with voters in this Democrat-dominated state.
The Republican and their allies accuse the governor of being motivated solely by politics and his potential White House aspirations in proposing an unnecessary and extreme expansion of abortion rights in an already quite permissive state.
The governor raised eyebrows last week by suggesting the women’s groups themselves have failed to reach consensus on what they want to see in his Equality Act, though top leaders in the abortion rights movement insist that’s not the case.
And pretty much everyone blames the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference for teaming up with the Republicans and promising to deliver on so-called “progressive” legislation when it’s crystal clear that a vote on any abortion-related bills would simply be a bridge too far for GOP Leader Dean Skelos.
One of the four remaining (remember, they kicked scandal-scarred Sen. Malcolm Smith out of their club) IDC members, Sen. Diane Savino, joined me for a CapTon interview last night, and I asked her to respond to the allegations that it will be her conference’s fault if the Women’s Equality Act fails to come to the floor for a vote.
Her first response, which we’ve also heard for some time now from IDC Leader Jeff Klein: The votes aren’t there.
“(I)t doesn’t matter who’s in charge of the Senate,” Savino continued. “And it doesn’t matter whether there’s a coalition or there’s a straight up Republican or Democrat majority. There are not 32 living votes in the Senate for that bill.”
“So, that means that that bill can’t pass. So what do we do?”
“We need to come up with alternative language that guarantees a woman’s right to choose, that protects women’s reproductive health in New York – because that’s what makes New York a leader – and also is drafted in a way that addresses the concerns and gets us that critical number 32.”
“I’m not writing the bill. I know what’s in the governor’s mind, I know what’s in his heart, and I just hope it’s in the language, because that’ll get us to that 32.”
But then Savino changed tactics, saying that the IDC has, in fact, already delivered on its pledge to get several pieces of progressive legislation passed in the Senate, and therefore shouldn’t receive a failing grade if Klein can’t convince Skelos to budge on abortion rights.
“Quite frankly we’ve already delivered on significant pieces of progressive legislation, whether it was raising the minimum wage, whether it was, you know, the New York Safe Act,” Savino said.
“I mean could go on and on, and we are going to continue to deliver on progressive legislation that affects the life of people. But never at any time when we entered into the coalition and the IDC was formed did we ever make the commitment that we could deliver the Reproductive Health Act.”
“Because, you see, we understand arithmetic. The votes are not there. They weren’t there when the Democrats held the majority. They’re not there with the coalition. They were not there when the Republicans held the majority. They’re just not there.”
“At best – for that particular bill; again, I don’t know what the governor’s going to propose yet, I’m hoping he has something that will get us to that 32 – at best we have 31, and I’m not even sure about that.”
This is a new argument from the IDC. But I don’t know if it’s one that will work with the governor. He’s already pretty far out on a limb with the Women’s Equality Act – and with good reason. Women make up a sizable portion of the electorate, and they vote.
If Skelos remains dug in on this issue, and the act either never gets to the floor – or, perhaps worse, gets to the floor and fails to pass – Cuomo is going to need a scapegoat.
And remember: 2014 is an election year, and the true test of the IDC-GOP coalition will take place at the ballot box.
Apr 2nd - 1:43 pm
Independent Democratic Conference Leader and Senate Co-President Jeff Klein announced this afternoon in a statement he has stripped Sen. Malcolm Smith of his various leadership posts and committee assignments as the result of his arrest on bribery charges this morning.
Smith had been the IDC conference chairman and, more prominently vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, along with the chairman of the Senate Social Services Committee.
Smith had joined the IDC in December 2012, becoming the fifth member of the group that would eventually form a coalition government with the Senate Republicans.
The Queens Democrat today was arrested for his role in an alleged widespread bribery scheme with the goal of gaining access to the Republican ballot for New York City mayor.
Klein does not directly call for Smith to resign his post, but urged the lawmaker to “seriously consider” whether he can continue to serve in office.
The full statement:
“These are very serious allegations that, if true, constitute a clear betrayal of the public trust. As a result of these charges, I have made the decision to strip Senator Smith of his committee assignments and of his conference leadership position. By participating in the alleged scheme, Senator Smith breached the trust of the Independent Democratic Conference. I trust that the U.S. attorney’s office will act expeditiously to resolve this matter and to ensure that justice is served. Finally, given the level of criminality alleged, I believe that Senator Smith should seriously consider whether or not he can continue to effectively serve his constituents.”
Apr 2nd - 9:40 am
The criminal complaint alleging a widespread bribery scheme as part of Sen. Malcolm Smith’s effort to get on the Republican New York City mayoral ballot filed today by the U.S. Attorney’s office also draws in a fellow member of the Independent Democratic Conference.
According to the complaint, Smith had been speaking to an undercover federal agent posing as a wealthy real estate developer.
The complaint alleges Smith sought state funding for a $500,000 road project in Spring Valley, Rockland County, that would benefit a real estate deal for the undercover agent’s company in exchange for bribes to Bronx County Chairman Jay Savino and Queens Chairman Vincent Tabone.
Smith accordingly called the move “doable” and said he would speak to a lawmaker identified in the complaint as a state senator whose district “encompasses” Spring Valley.
Though referenced throughout the complaint as the “Spring Valley State Senator” the lawmaker is most likely fellow Independent Democratic Conference member David Carlucci, who represents most of Rockland County, including Spring Valley.
Smith met with the undercover agent and a cooperating witness as late as March 21 in Albany to discuss the road project. At the time, Smith expressed surprise that the other lawmaker had not been contacted about the funding. In the conversation, Smith said he had figured out a possible way to get the funding.
From the complaint’s transcript of the conversation:
I’m surprised you didn’t see urn, urn, [the Spring Valley State Senator]. . Why don’t you use him up for your little road stuff. I bet ya he can. I think, I think I found another place for him to do it, too. Out of multi-modal money. . . . Multi-modal money is outside the budget and it’s always around.
It does not appear, at least according to the complaint, that Carlucci was ever approached by undercover agents for the funding nor was he involved at all in the broader bribery scheme as alleged by federal prosecutors.
Still, the episode is an example that Smith’s joining the IDC late last year would end up being a toxic one for the conference.
Mar 19th - 1:39 pm
The IDC trotted out it’s lone upstate (read: North of Albany) member, Syracuse-area Sen. Dave Valesky, to defend the honor of the breakaway Democratic conference against criticism lodged this morning by his old colleague, Sen. Mike Gianaris.
Gianaris, who serves as the deputy leader of the “regular” Democrats – (or, if you prefer, minority conference) – decried the reported minimum wage deal reached by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders as “half a loaf,” and said the promise of a “progressive agenda,” which served as the basis for IDC leader Jeff Klein’s rationale for joining forces with the Republicans in the first place, is not being fulfilled.
UPDATE: I’ve edited the paragraph that appears above to make clear the fact that Gianaris did not directly attack Klein.
He did, however, say that a progressive agenda is being “hindered” by the “strange arrangement” that’s currently in charge of the Senate.
The Democrats have repeatedly said that they – counting both the regulars and the IDC – appear to have sufficent votes to pass a minimum wage bill that would be more appealing to the left – in other words, one that includes indexing, if only the GOP would let such a measure come to the floor for a vote.
In a prepared statement attributed to Valesky and sent to reporters by IDC spokesman Eric Soufer, the Central New York senator called Gianaris’ comments “corrosive to the legislative process” and insisted that the minimum wage compromise – a phased in boost to $9 an hour over three years, no indexing future hikes to the rate of inflation and no so-called “training wage,” as the Senate Republicans had hoped – actually proves the IDC-GOP coalition is working.
“It is exactly that type of absolutism that prevented progress in the past,” Valesky said of Gianaris’ criticism. “In fact, it is the reason we formed the IDC and the reason why coalition government has been so successful.”
“With respect to discussions on the minimum wage, in my position as Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business, I am charged with the responsibility of balancing the needs of workers with the legitimate concerns of the small business community. I think that the minimum wage proposal reportedly under discussion in leaders’ meetings strikes that balance, and underscores how the best policies are achieved through thoughtful and inclusive dialogue, not divisive and partisan rhetoric.”
The very fact that the IDC was willing to come out with both verbal guns blazing on this suggests the conference is feeling a little sensitive on this question of the minimum wage deal – especially Klein, who made it a top priority and repeatedly insisted that it be part of the budget, even when Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the governor seemed perfectly willing to deal with it as a post-budget matter.
Also, it’s noteworthy the IDC had Valesky do the dirty work here, avoiding any chance of observers suggesting that Klein was merely slamming Gianaris as a result of the bad blood between them.
It has been reported on many occasions that the two just simply don’t like one another, although they’ve both insisted at various times that’s not the case.
It’s without question, however, that Gianaris supplanted Klein as DSCC chairman in 2010, thanks to former Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, which helped spur Klein to bolt the regular Democrats and form the IDC in the first place, although it was hardly the only motivation he had for doing so.
Mar 14th - 3:57 pm
For the last two days, advocates for increasing the state’s minimum wage have come to Albany to push not just Republicans, but also the five independent Democrats in the Senate’s governing coalition, to back a $9 minimum wage.
The effort comes as the talks on approving a final state spending plan for the coming 2013-14 fiscal year begin to wind down, but no word is given on the fate of “non-budget” or policy-laden items like the minimum wage.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would insert a $8.75 minimum wage in his budget, while the Democratic-led Assembly broke the measure out of its budget to pass a $9 hike, plus an indexing of futre increases to the rate of inflation.
The coalition-led Senate, meanwhile, has approved language that included an unspecified minimum wage increase, with a plan to phase-in additional increases over three installments. The wage increase would first take effect in 2013.
But the groups that back the minimum wage rise have trained their attention on the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, which forged the coalition with the Senate Republicans, and specifically Senate Co-President Jeff Klein.
On Wednesday, Strongy Economy for All Executive Director Mike Kink highlighted a report on the impact the lack of a wage increase would have on the economy (not good, the report concluded) and he pushed the IDC to start pushing the GOP on the issue.
“Now is the question of whether they can deliver on that promise of progressive policy and bipartisan support,” he said according to the CapCon. “Many of the labor groups involved in this coalition have been talking to Republicans — we know that there are many Republicans who are ready to support a strong bill, with or without tax breaks for small business or other things that Sen. Skelos is looking for.”
Today, twitter users “twitter bombed” Klein’s account, sending him messages uring him to back the $9 wage. To be clear, Klein does back a minimum wage increase and has insisted it should be in the final budget.
At the same time, another protest in favor of the wage increase made the rounds through the Capitol today.
The crux of the concern seems to be that Klein is not using his clout in the power-sharing agreement to get the wage increase through (under the terms of the coalitio’s power-sharing agreement, both Klein and GOP Leader Dean Skelos have to agree jointly on which bills come to the floor for a vote).
“The time for excuses is over,” said longtime anti-poverty advocate Mark Dunlea. “Given the tremendous support by voters, community, faith, labor and business leaders, the minimum wage should have been increased last year. A majority of State Senators want to join the Assembly in raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour, with indexing. Sen. Klein has to show that his power arrangement agreement is something more than a charade to thwart the democratic will of voters and to distribute patronage to the minority Republicans and their IDC enablers.”
Updated: The pro-business groups National Federation of Independent Businesses and Unshackle Upstate weighed in on the wage debate with their own statement:
“New York employers suffer under the worst business tax climate in the country We are dead last when it comes to cost structures and taxes. As a result, and backed by a recent jobs report and unemployment figures, upstate New York small businesses are struggling to compete and unfortunately shedding jobs.
As it stands today, Unshackle Upstate and NFIB again reiterate our staunch opposition to the current proposals to raise minimum wage. Passing either the Governor’s plan or the Assembly’s bill will have a significant negative impact on small business. Additionally, any minimum wage increase that is tied to inflation will drastically change the perception of Albany with our members and negate the progress made over the past two years.
“We are not like other states. We have two vastly different economies and that cannot be understated enough. We strongly urge the Governor and legislative leaders to stay the course and improve the economic future for New York by cutting taxes and reducing regulations. Only then will we create greater economic prosperity for our citizens.”