Independent Democratic Conference

New York State Senate

Monday marked the first day that the former breakaway Democrats in the New York State Senate were working with the mainstream Democrats after they agreed to reunify earlier this month.

Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said so far, it’s all proceeding smoothly, but she dampened expectations that major new legislation would get done before the session ends in June.

Tom Fazzio / Syracuse University

The New York State Senate is changing. The Senate's Independent Democratic Conference, which had operated in a coalition with Republicans, is now dissolving and rejoining with mainline Democrats. This week, Grant Reeher talks with Sen. Dave Valesky (D-Oneida), a founding member of the IDC. They discuss the implications of this change, as well as the recently passed state budget. 

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Two warring factions of Democrats in the state Senate are rejoining forces as pressure has mounted from the party’s left-leaning base for a reunification.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

State Sen. Dave Valesky (D-Oneida) will most likely face a competitive election this year for the first time since 2010.

Rachel May, an administrator at Syracuse University, is running against him in the Democratic Party primary. She has been leading opposition to Valesky in recent months because of his affiliation with the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats that shares power with Republicans in the State Senate.

WRVO News

The Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight Democratic state senators who operate in a coalition with Republicans in the state Senate, has come under increasing criticism by Democrats in the Senate, and across the state. This week on the Campbell Conversations, host Grant Reeher talks with state Sen. Dave Valesky (D-Oneida), a member of the IDC.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News file photo

Two rival factions of the Democratic Party in the New York state Senate are making moves toward unification. 

New York State Senate

The state Democratic Party, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is offering carrots and sticks to two rival factions of Democrats in the state Senate in an effort to get them to reunite and potentially rule the chamber.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News

After months of focusing on members of Congress, protesters with the CNY Solidarity Coalition are shifting their attention to the New York State Legislature to push their progressive agenda. They are calling on Democratic state Sen. Dave Valesky to cut his ties with the Independent Democratic Conference. 

Protesters wore black veils and carried fake tombstones at a mock funeral held outside Valesky’s office in Syracuse. Rachel May with CNY Solidarity was among them.

“Dearly beloved, we come here to pay our respects to poor, progressive Bill,” May said.

New York State Senate

After an embarrassing controversy over stipend payments, the beleaguered group of breakaway Democrats in the state Senate is trying to change the subject.

The eight-member Independent Democratic Conference has been the target of some bad headlines lately because some of its members have accepted stipend payments of $12,500 to $18,000 for chairing committees when they were in fact the vice chairs, a position that does not legally entitle a senator to extra pay.

The IDC’s leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, has said repeatedly that it’s all legal.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News File Photo

There are reports that state senators who received payments for chairing committees that they actually did not chair are now under a probe by the state attorney general and at least one U.S. attorney.

Several Republican and independent Democratic senators were paid stipends allocated to chairs of Senate committees. But the senators weren’t actually the chairs; they had all been designated as vice chairs, a relatively new title. There is no provision in state law to pay stipends to vice chairs.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

There are calls for a criminal investigation of some questionable stipend payments to some New York state senators. One of the senators who received those payments is giving it back, while another is calling the controversy a “witch hunt.”

Several senators who are part of a breakaway group of Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference were paid extra stipends — ranging from $12,500 to $18,000 a year — for serving on various Senate committees controlled by the majority party Republicans.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Democrats in the state Senate remain hopeful that they will regain the numerical majority and control of the chamber after a special election is held later this month. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo dampened those expectations, in remarks made Wednesday in New York City.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she expects the seat of former Sen. Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat who won a city council post, to be filled by another mainstream Democrat when a special election is held on May 23.

Gage Skidmore / via Flickr

Several New York state lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that they say would force President Donald Trump to make his state tax returns public.

Trump broke with a more than 40-year tradition of presidential candidates and presidents voluntarily releasing their tax returns. Trump has said he can’t release his returns because he is under audit.

In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon began the practice of releasing the tax filings, even though Nixon himself was under federal audit at the time. Since then, every president has voluntarily released his tax returns.

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Tensions between opposing groups of Democrats in the New York State Senate reached a flash point this week -- over whose faction would be allowed to present their budget priorities for a floor debate. The dispute resulted in an exchange that included some racially charged name calling.

A growing group of eight breakaway Democrats, who rule the Senate in an informal coalition with 31 Republicans, have left regular Democrats smarting for some time now.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The smallest faction in the divided state Senate, the Independent Democratic Conference, has been permitted by the ruling party Republicans to issue its own alternate spending plan. That has angered the rest of the Democrats.

Currently, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have the same amount of members – 31 each – but the Democrats are divided, with eight members in a breakaway group that forms an informal ruling coalition with the GOP.

New York State Senate

A faction of breakaway Democrats in the New York State Senate has been gaining members lately, but they are now facing a backlash, including raucous opposition at meetings in their districts.

When Sen. Jose Peralta announced on his Facebook page that he was joining the Independent Democratic Conference, a growing group of breakaway Democrats in the Senate who form a governing coalition with the Republicans, he said he wanted to “deliver a progressive agenda.”

What Peralta did not expect was a backlash in his Queens district.

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New York lawmakers are returning to Albany this week to begin their work for 2017. This year's agenda includes proposals to modernize the state's voting rules, address government corruption and permit the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft to expand upstate.

Other prominent proposals include legislation to allow the terminally ill to request life-ending medication from a physician and a bill to end the state's practice of prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

governorandrewcuomo / via Flickr

Tuesday is not only New York’s presidential primary, it also the day for two special elections to replace the disgraced former leaders of the legislature who lost their seats after being convicted on multiple felony corruption charges.

One of the races is to replace former Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican who is now facing a lengthy prison term on corruption convictions.  

The Independent Democratic Conference is calling for state ethics reform once again. In past years, the group of breakaway Democrats have proposed a new system for campaign contributions and limits on outside income.

Now, the IDC is hoping the conviction last week of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will lead to change in next year's legislative session.

When the New York State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference joined in a majority coalition with Republicans in 2012, it claimed that the arrangement would provide more up-or-down floor votes on progressive legislation.  In announcing a new intention to caucus with Democrats following this November’s elections, the IDC is claiming that the arrangement will provide….more up-or-down votes on progressive legislation.  How can both claims be true?  That question and others related to political power-sharing arrangements are explored with this week’s guest on the Campbell Conversations—IDC member Senator Dave Valesky.

New York State Senate

Two Democratic factions in the New York State Senate say they are joining to form what could be a strong Democratic majority in the Senate, leaving Republicans, who up until now have ruled the chamber in a coalition government, out of power.

Zack Seward / WXXI

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is downplaying the chances of any major agreements before the legislative session ends later this month.

The governor, who has already vowed to replace the current Senate leadership coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, says he does not expect any deals on big ticket issues before the legislature leaves for the summer.

“We have some clean up items,” Cuomo said. “I don’t expect us to do any major initiatives.”

The ruling coalition in the state Senate has grown by one member. Sen. Tony Avella, of Queens, has left the minority Democrats to join the governing coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats.

Avella is a progressive-leaning Democrat who’s been called a maverick. He says he’s become convinced he can get more accomplished by joining the Senate’s ruling coalition, which includes all of the Republicans and a few break away Independent Democrats.  

nysenate.gov

Syracuse-area state Senator Dave Valesky says the bipartisan coalition that governs the New York Senate was successful this year.

A key member of the New York State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference says the group does not foresee joining with the rest of the Democrats to overcome Republican resistance to a number of end-of-session issues, including public financing of campaigns.
 

In the wake of a series of political corruption cases out of Albany in recent weeks, campaign finance reform has become a popular issue in the state capitol.  Among the proposals for reforming the way money is used in political campaigns, is one from the Independent Democratic Conference. The group is wrapping up a set of statewide hearings on their plan today in Albany.

The second half of New York’s legislative session begins today and it’s likely to be dominated by the response to on going bribery and corruption scandals that came to light while lawmakers were on spring break.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith, a former New York Senate majority leader, has been arrested and indicted in a far reaching bribery and corruption scandal.

New York State lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol Wednesday following a two-week break for the President’s Day holiday.  Lawmakers have plenty to work on in the next few weeks leading up to the start of the state’s fiscal year, including whether to pass a minimum wage hike as part of the state budget.

The experimental governing coalition in the New York State Senate passed its first test, on the first full day of session, when senators approved a sweeping gun control package urged by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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