An open letter to New York state Democrats from the party’s Executive Director, Geoff Berman:
In the last few weeks New York State’s Democratic political world was revolutionized. The Senate Democrats, who were part of the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), have dissolved and joined with the mainline Democrats. Governor Cuomo brokered the peace.
Big news, and why should everyday New Yorkers care?
Short term, it provides the clarity and focus necessary for long-term and profound change. It is a recognition that, in this age of Trump, individual agendas must come second to Democratic goals. For the sake of the values that unite us, we’ve laid to rest the intramural contest between individuals jockeying for position — a contest that drove most of the division within the Senate Democratic Caucus. Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the leader of the Democratic Senate Conference and Jeff Klein is her deputy. With that, the Senate Democrats are a united front.
In terms of tangible legislative victories, we must be clear and realistic in our expectations and goals. The Republicans still control the State Senate for now. But over the long term, there is now the possibility of major progressive victories — if Democrats handle the situation with care.
The IDC rejoining the mainline Democrats does not now give the Democrats the majority. Even when Democrats win the two open Senate seats on April 24 — which I believe we will — the key to control of the Senate this session remains with Senator Simcha Felder who runs on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative lines. Senator Felder has never agreed to caucus with the Democrats, and he is conservative in his political ideology. We are hopeful that he will rejoin the Democratic Conference and will work towards that goal. The outcome is still uncertain and what progressives issues he will support are less clear.
During the recent budget process, we overcame big obstacles and pushed the boundary of the progressive achievements as far as possible within the confines of this Legislature. We achieved greater gun safety, record education spending, national precedents in combatting sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, disclosure on social media political advertising, landmark-setting education reform with funding transparency, record NYCHA funding, and legislation that will compel New York City to pay its fair share for mass transit. The remaining progressive agenda items are topics that the Republicans and conservatives have steadfastly refused to support, or even discuss: The Dream Act, more gun safety measures, early voting, codifying Roe v. Wade, the Contraceptive Care Act, criminal justice reform including bail reform, the Child Victim’s Act, banning outside income for state legislators, stronger rent regulations including ending vacancy decontrol, and campaign finance reform — all have been consistently opposed by Republicans for years.
But the long-term consequences of this momentum is profound.
First, we have six more weeks in the legislative session to push the Republicans and conservatives to support these priorities — which the people of our state overwhelmingly favor. Second, we are now free from the distraction of a divided Democratic Senate fighting amongst itself rather than focusing on the main goal of progressive action. Third, we have focused the agenda for the November elections so that New Yorkers have a clear choice on their ballots. Voters will know that to enact true progressive legislation, they must strengthen our majority by electing more Democrats to the state Senate.
And it doesn’t stop there. New York has always illuminated the progressive path forward. Just remember our history — from women’s rights to gay rights to the environmental movement, to Mario Cuomo’s opposition to the death penalty, New York has charted the progressive path. United, we can lead the effort to elect a Democratic Congress with the power to stop the Trump-Ryan-McConnell extreme conservative freight train that is attacking our New York values and our economic rights.
Under Governor Cuomo and Congressman Joseph Crowley’s leadership, we are waging a fully coordinated statewide effort. With an extreme conservative ideology trying to take over the nation, New York must be the base of the resistance. The nation must see that an alternative political and social theory is not just viable, but extraordinarily successful. Recently, New York has led the way with passage of the nation’s best gun safety legislation, the SAFE Act after the Sandy hook tragedy. We passed marriage equality 5 years before the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. And, we led the way on economic justice with the $15 minimum wage, the nation’s strongest paid family leave while executing the most aggressive infrastructure and environmental protection programs — including banning fracking — in the nation. Today we are leading the opposition to the anti-immigrant movement with the Liberty Defense Fund and groundbreaking civil rights initiatives.
This brings us back to our role as a party in this important election year. Our goal as Democrats must be to construct and to operate a fully coordinated campaign focused on exposing the Republicans’ extreme conservative ideology that threatens our social values and philosophy. Their Federal Tax Reform bill, which ends the deductibility of state and local taxes, threatens the very economic stability of every New Yorker. They must be stopped and their economic plan must be repealed. That’s our aim.
For Democrats, certainly this year, what unites us is stronger than what divides us. All through the election season our focus must remain on our core mission of beating the extreme conservative ideology attacking our state and nation. All our campaigns across the state, for every office up and down the ballot, must speak with one voice and work side by side for our common goal: a Democratic state Senate and Democratic Congress. Our effort is “Fight Back New York.” It will be the governor’s top priority and will be well-staffed with the best professionals and well-funded.
This is a pivotal election for Democrats here in New York and across the nation. If we are successful — and I believe we will be — we will restore the promise of our children’s future. It is New York’s legacy to lead, and the time is now.