Hamilton says Constituents More Important Than IDC Backlash

Jesse Hamilton Headshot
State Sen. Jesse Hamilton

State Sen. Jesse Hamilton (D-Central Brooklyn) today hit back at a planned protest in front of his birthday bash fundraiser Thursday in Park Slope, saying their sexist, racist, bigoted and bullying behavior will not stop him from continuing to be part of the Senate’s eight-member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) that he joined last November.

The issue of the IDC has become an increasing contentious issue among Democrats since Donald Trump was elected president, and in light of the IDC continuing to have a coalition with the State Senate Republican Conference as opposed to joining the Senate Democratic Conference.

Complicating the issue further is that if the IDC formed a coalition with Senate Democrats, the party would have a razor-thin 32-31 majority in the chamber if rogue Democrat Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Boro Park, Bensonhurst), who caucuses with the Senate Republicans, could be persuaded to return to the fold.

Hamilton and the other IDC members including Chair Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester) and members Senators Tony Avella (D-Queens), Marisol Alcantara (D-Manhattan), David Valesky (D-Syracuse), David Carlucci (D-Rockland County), Diane Savino (D-Coney Island, Staten Island) and Jose Peralta (D-Queens) feel that they have better leverage as an independent conference in a coalition with Senate Republicans to get more done for their constituents in Albany.

They also feel they are being unfairly associated with Trump, because they want to put policy above party in order to get things done. Added to this are personal issues, in which some IDC members feel the Democratic Conference Executive committee sets the agenda and members outside this committee are told to tow to this agenda.

“I am proud to stand with my colleagues in the IDC and promote a unifying, progressive message that advances the quality of life of all New Yorkers. That message of empathy, compassion, and inclusiveness stands in stark contrast to the actions of the Trump administration,” said Hamilton, who has been an extremely active senator since being elected,  .

“That message of unity also stands in contrast to some of the really ugly, repeatable – sexist, racist, bigoted – name-calling and attempts at bullying directed at myself and my colleagues.

“It is my honor to represent one of the most diverse districts in New York and I will continue the constructive dialogue with the people I represent. We will work together to to problem-solve, to provide services, and to meet the needs of our Central Brooklyn community both in the neighborhood and in Albany. From establishing an immigrant assistance hotline (1-800-213-6385), to hosting forums on challenges facing our neighborhoods, we demonstrate we can make strides to the forward-looking New York we seek to build,” he added.

Sen. Kevin Parker

But State Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Ditmas Park, Kensington, Windsor Terrace, Park Slope), a member of the Democratic Conference Executive committee, said IDC members left the conference for the perks and not because they didn’t have a voice in setting the Democratic agenda.

“No one left left the New York State Senate Democratic Conference because they felt they didn’t have access [to shaping the conference agenda],” said Parker. “They left because they got stuff – bigger offices, committee chairs, larger staff allotments. At they end of the day, by refusing to coalition with the Democratic Conference, they [IDC members] decided the black and Latino neighborhoods don’t deserve the same representation as the white neighborhoods.”

Another issue that Senator Alcantara brought up is the feeling among the black and Latino members in the IDC that they are being targeted for protests by mainly white progressive organizations such as the Working Families Party (WFP) under a steriotype that they joined the IDC for larger campiagn contributions and more money chairing a committee.

WFP New York State Director Bill Lipton refuted this saying that race has nothing to do with the protests, but rather that with the election of Donald Trump it is critical that the Democratic Party unites around progressive ideals.

“There are grassroots protests being planned against all members of the IDC who chose to caucus with Republicans, and we support them,” said Lipton. “We recognize and respect the IDC and its members, but could not disagree more strongly with their decision to caucus with Republicans. Now is the time for progressives to unite and work together to oppose the Trump regime. Caucusing with the Republicans will harm working families throughout New York state.”

Kirsten John Foy

But Kirsten John Foy, the Northeast Regional Director of Rev. Al Sharpton‘s National Action Network, said his organization is more interested in policies and not party politics.

“We care about the 45,000 kids a year are that are immorally charged as adults, and Donald Trump’s promise to deport 11 million people. We care about funding holistic legal services. We care about those issues and anybody who will fight for those issues. Party labels is not what’s important. What’s important is if the IDC can move policies that can prevent kids from being tries as adults. Historically, we’ve worked with Republicans and Democrats,” said Foy.

“Jesse [Hamilton] was elected to represent and produce for his constituents, not to be a wholly owned subsidiary of any conference. He’s still a Democrat, and to act like he betrayed principles is a stretch. To predetermine for them [Black and Latino elected officials] that they must be a part of a particular conference is paternalistic. I resent the notion that the Democratic Party owns black and latino elected officials,” he added.

Sen. Simcha Felder

Meanwhile, Felder said that if the IDC did decide to return to the Democratic Conference he informed Democratic Conference Chair Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester County) that he would be willing to negotiate possibly rejoining the conference as well.

“If Jeff Klein says publicly that he is willing to return to the Democratic caucus then I am willing to negotiate, but he is unwilling to say it because he doesn’t want to go back under the conditions that exist. Their break off was not on philosophical grounds. Most members of the Democratic Conference are really liberal Democrats. They don’t want to go back over personal differences they have had for a long time. For me that’s not the case,” said Felder.