The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) is a coalition of eight State Senators in New York who carry the Democratic label, but caucus with the Republican Party. Since its inception in 2011, this group has essentially given Republicans majority rule in the State Senate, and participated in actively obstructing efforts to enact progressive policies in the state legislature.
Democrats hold 32 out of the 63 State Senate seats in New York, but IDC Democrats have undermined this majority, allowing Republicans to maintain their control of the Senate over the past several years. In exchange, these moderate Democrats are provided perks and district favors, while usurping Democratic resources to get elected. The New York Times reported in May 2017 that IDC members receive extra pay for chairmanships of committees they don’t actually hold, exploiting a legal loophole. This power sharing agreement prevents progressive legislation from being voted on in the senate, and often results in further compromises on other bills that make it to the senate floor as Republicans are granted the power to determine what legislation is voted on.
The 8 state senators of the IDC include Marisol Alcanatara, David Valesky, Jesse Hamilton, Jose Peralta, Diane Savino, David Carlucci, Tony Avella, and Jeff Klein, who serves as its chair and founder. As the IDC Chair, Klein received a $34,000 stipend this year for being named the Senate Chamber’s Vice President Pro Tempore by State Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan.
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In 2017, the IDC helped shut down a New York state DREAM Act that would have provided tuition assistance to the children of undocumented parents. There was a criminal justice reform bill that raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18, but it could have been even stronger were it not for IDC opposition. Other progressive legislation has successfully passed the State Assembly only to be stopped in the senate with the help of the IDC; In February 2017, Republicans stopped a bill to make New York a sanctuary state, and in June halted a single payer healthcare bill, the New York Health Act, after it passed the state assembly. By granting Republicans the majority in the state senate, the IDC has helped prevent campaign finance reform bills, an LGBT anti-discrimination bill, a rental tenant protection bill, a women’s equality bill, and a voting reform bill.
Another rogue Democrat, who is not part of the IDC, Simcha Felder, has run as a Democrat in Brooklyn’s State Senate District 17 since he was first was elected in 2012, but caucuses with the Republican Party. In August 2017, one of Felder’s top aides told a constituent via email that the white supremacist who murdered a woman protesting Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia was faked. Felder’s record is filled with opposing policies that most Democrats easily come to a consensus on, like abortion rights. The current make-up of the state senate has provided Felder with significant political power, since he’s often found himself as the deciding vote on a number of issues.
These Republicans in Democratic clothing have drawn criticism and opposition from leftists in New York, who continue to work toward dismantling their stranglehold on the state senate’s political power. In May 2017, all 18 Democrat congressional representatives from New York signed on a letter calling the IDC to formally rejoin the Democratic Party, which would grant Democrats the official majority in the state senate. This year, the New York State Democratic Party was pushed by progressive activists to adopt a resolution to formally denounce the IDC’s partnership with the Republican Party. Shortly after Trump’s election, a group of activists formed the organization ‘No IDC NY’ to oppose the band of rogue Democrats who embolden Republicans in the state, preventing New York from serving as a resistance to the Trump Administration’s policies. They’ve started a fundraising committee to support primary challengers against IDC members.
On November 1, 2017, Attorney Lewis Kaminski confirmed that he will challenge IDC Chair, State Senator Jeff Klein, in the 2018 Democratic Primaries. Former New York City Council member Robert Jackson is running to unseat State Senator Marisol Alcantara. “We are excited by the energy, enthusiasm and number of our supporters resulting in the record-breaking 2,865 individual contributions Robert Jackson received since in the first two months of his campaign,” said Richard Fife, a spokesperson for Jackson’s campaign, in an interview with me. “While the turncoat Democrat incumbent will once again rely on big checks from real estate and right wing special interests trying to keep Republicans in power, Robert Jackson is building a people-powered campaign ready to bring the progressive Democratic leadership needed to improve our schools, protect women’s reproductive health and pass real ethics and campaign reform.”
The Rockland County Democratic Party have vocally announced they will field a primary challenger against State Senator David Carlucci unless he abandons the IDC to rejoin caucusing with the Democratic Party. Former New York City Comptroller John Liu is mulling a primary bid against State Senator Tony Avella. One roadblock to challenging IDC incumbents is their ties to special interests have bolstered their campaign finances, with $4.5 million in cash on hand.