IDC Resist WFP, Felder Demands To Rejoin Mainstream Senate Democrats

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Despite mounting pressure from mainstream State Senate Democrats, the Working Families Party (WFP) and even maverick Democratic Senator Simcha Felder (D-Boro Park), the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) has drawn a line in the sand on remaining independent.

State Sen. Jesse Hamilton

The eight-member IDC is in coalition with Senate Republicans to pass legislation and includes two Brooklyn lawmakers, Senators Jesse Hamilton (Central Brooklyn) and Diane Savino (Coney Island, Gravesend, Staten Island). The other IDC member senators include its’ chair Jeff Klein and Senators Tony Avella, Marisol Alcantara, David Carlucci, David Valesky and Jose Peralta.

The IDC’s refusal to join the mainstream Democrats has been particularly vexing to the WFP and the more progressive wing of the part, including City Council Member Brad Lander, who was among Democratic progressive leaders in calling a mass protest outside the offices of all the IDC members today.

Their frustration was further fueled with yesterday’s election of Democrat Brian Benjamin to fill a vacant senate seat giving the Democrats a 32-31 technical majority in the chamber. Meanwhile, Felder, who caucuses with Senate Republicans, sent a letter today to Klein urging the IDC to “unconditionally and publicly rejoin the Democrats.”

Felder, however, made no promise to rejoin his fellow Democrats in the letter and instead put the burden on the IDC to unite the party.

But Savino said she has no intention of rejoining the mainstream Democrats, because she believes the IDC serves as advocates of progressive policies by forcing Republicans to listen to Democratic issues, and pass legislation in a collaborative way that benefits all residents of the state.

Sen. Diane Savino

“The only way to prevent bad things from happening is to have a seat at the table. To make sure that good solid progressive legislation gets a hearing in the State Senate and gets issues like Raise the Age, Paid Family Leave passed. We force Republicans to do things that they didn’t want to do. If we walked away from them [Republicans], they wouldn’t do a thing, trust me. No one makes them [Senate Republicans] do things they don’t want to do unless you are able to work in a collaborative way with them,” said Savino.

Hamilton echoed these sentiments highlighting the progress he has made in his district as a member of the IDC for residents struggling with educational opportunities, employment opportunities, fair treatment in the criminal justice system and other challenges.

Hamilton also went on to note the progress he has made through his pioneering ‘The Campus’ initiative, a program that helps bring a holistic approach to education through technology and coding, wellness, spoken word poetry, yoga and mental health and mentorship to underserved communities like Brownsville, which he represents. 

“This is an initiative that began last Fall under the most tragic circumstances with the shooting death of Rysheen Ervin steps from a Campus school and moments before our community leaders meeting. Nevertheless, we persevered. We just celebrated our first school year and have begun programming in additional neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn to serve even more students. I am not only supporting public students with words, but I am actively in the schools, bringing in free services and making sure they are effective,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton went on to highlight his work alongside his IDC colleagues at upholding women’s rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, labor rights, and civil rights  at the state level. He also promised to “continue to advance legislation and on-the-ground action that makes a difference in the lives of our New York communities.”

But Hamilton’s accomplishments fell on deaf ears to the roughly 20 protesters that rallied in front of Hamilton’s district office today to demand he join his party line. They feel betrayed by the Senator they believed was supposed to be a champion of progressive politics but instead turned his back on his party values.

“He [Hamilton] needs to go back to the Democrats so that the progressive agenda can move forward in the senate and not be blocked by Trump-supporting Republicans,” said Zellnor Myria, life-long Crown Heights resident and Hamilton constituent.

“They have done nothing, the IDC,  that a Democratic majority can not also accomplish. If we had our majority, as we should, we would then be deciding the bills that come to the floor and then you can still have that back-and-forth. You [Hamilton] can still talk with Republicans and you can still find common ground. It’s what the voters decided, that most of the senators of the state are democrat. It’s not just the letter next to your name, it’s about what you’re empowering,” said Myria.

WFP members at the protest noted they were one of the stronger supporters of Hamilton’s election back in November 2016.

“We are out here demanding Senator Hamilton come back to the Democrats. We are calling for unity within the senate. Senator Hamilton was elected as a Democrat. Voters felt they were voting for someone who would pass progressive values such as, repealing vacancy decontrol to protect our affordable housing stock, many of which is in this district and is under threat. We also want to pass the DREAM Act, and these are things we can only do if we have a unified Democratic senate,” said Juan Antigua, the New York City Political Director for the Working Families Party,

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