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IDC Challengers Gaining Momentum In New York Senate Races

Jeff Klein
Karen DeWitt
Jeff Klein

 *Updated July 13th to include statement from Senator Klien*

*Updated July 15th to correct copy regarding an endorsement. The original audio has been removed.*

Primary challengers to a group of former breakaway Democrats in the state Senate have been gaining momentum lately, at least when it comes to campaign endorsements.

Many are encouraged by the June upset win of primary challenger, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to longtime Queens Congressman Joe Crowley.

The Democratic primary challenger to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Cynthia Nixon, has challenged several of the candidates challenging former members of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference.


Nixon endorsed Jessica Ramos, who is running against former IDC member Jose Peralta. The Senate district in Queens is part of the congressional district where Ocasio-Cortez beat incumbent Crowley.

“Jessica is the future,” Nixon said.

Ramos has endorsed Nixon in her run for governor.

The IDC has allied with Republicans in the state Senate during the past eight legislative sessions, at one point co-leading the Senate with the GOP. Both Nixon and Ramos say that led to inaction on many key issues they support, including abortion rights, driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and the Dream Act, which would give college aid to the children of undocumented immigrants.

Ramos said she endorsed Nixon over Cuomo because she shares Nixon’s belief that the governor tacitly supported the breakaway Democrats.

“Look, he’s had eight years to do the work,” Ramos said. “At some point we as women have to say that, ‘Even though you keep telling us that you have our backs, it’s time for us to step up and take care of it on our own.’ ”

Ramos, in an interview after the endorsement announcement, said she feels that state government has failed her and other members of her generation. She said the public school she attended is still owed money under a decade-old court order on school funding that was never fulfilled, and she has high student debt and trouble affording housing in a city with high rental rates and home prices. Her parents are immigrants, and when she was a baby, her father was caught up in an immigration raid, which she said was traumatic for her family.

Ramos said she’s heartened by Ocasio-Cortez’s win, which she said has “galvanized” progressives in the Democratic Party.

“With a bigot in the White House, people are starting to understand how important it is that we have a true blue state government that can protect us,” Ramos said.

The primary challengers to the former IDC senators have picked up other endorsements in the days since the congressional primary in late June.

A major New York City-based union, SEIU BJ 32, has endorsed Alessandra Biaggi, who is running against former  IDC Leader Jeff Klein . The president of the union, Hector Figueroa, said on Twitter that the IDC “betrayed voters” and created “a big political mess.”

“Time to clean up,” he added.

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, as well as several Democratic Assembly members who are running for re-election, also are endorsing the challengers.

After the budget was done in April, the IDC rejoined the rest of the Democrats, announcing the merger in a press conference that Cuomo held. The IDC members are now part of the mainstream Democrats in the Senate.

But the Democratic conference is not siding with the former breakaway Democratic senators over their challengers. Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who runs the Democrats’ campaign committee, said in an interview with public radio and television in June that he will wait until the primary is over, in mid-September, and then will fully back the winners, whether they are incumbents or insurgents.

“That has always been our policy,” said Gianaris, who added that even when the IDC in the past primaried some mainstream Democrats, they did not take sides.

The former IDC senators have support. Klein has received the backing of the largest health care workers union in the state, SEIU 1199. Klein also has Cuomo’s support, and according to the New York Times, he has sent out mailers to primary voters in his district featuring pictures of him and the governor together.

Late in the day, a spokeswoman for Klein, Barbara Brancaccio, responded.

“While the federal government and judiciary are attacking New Yorkers, these challengers, instead of working for a united Democratic Senate, are having a public identity crisis and will only have themselves to blame in November when they still don’t have votes in the Senate to pass the progressive legislation they claim to care about," she said in a statement.  

Brancaccio says while  Klein is focused on achieving a Democratic majority in the Senate, "these so-called reformers are aiding and abetting the Republicans in New York state."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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