Governor Andrew Cuomo issued this letter to Senator Simcha Felder hours after Democrats won two seats in the state Senate in special elections Tuesday. Because Felder, a Democrat, conferences with Republicans in the Senate, the GOP retain control of the house despite being outnumbered.
Dear Senator Felder,
Given Shelley Mayer’s victory in yesterday’s Senate special election, your decision on Senate leadership is now pivotal. There are now 32 registered Democratic Senators forming a majority Democratic Conference. The IDC has unified, and while I understand that you conference as a Republican and run on multiple lines, you are registered as a Democrat. I strongly urge you to join the 31 other registered Democrats so we can enact meaningful legislation that will continue our state’s progress at this most critical political time.
There is a new Democratic movement in this state and a new Democratic Senate Conference. We have come a long way. The New York Democratic Party is a new model of Democratic leadership. In this state, Democrats are no longer about just offering dreams but a party of dreamers and doers – a powerful combination. We have articulated a different vision for our state and we have delivered on it. We have credibility with the public because we didn’t offer only words, but matched our words with actions. We have made this state the most progressive state in the nation as a matter of aspiration and reality. No state rivals our record on social progress or government accomplishment.
There is much to be proud of, but with a Democratic Senate, we could do even more. There are issues we need to address that the Republicans in the Senate refused to act upon or even bring to the floor for a vote. Not only is it a wasted opportunity to move the state forward, but by refusing to bring issues up for a vote New Yorkers don’t even know where the legislators stand.
Putting political considerations aside, the policies that could be advanced would make a real difference in people’s lives. These issues would make a positive difference to your community. Ethics reforms, including campaign finance reform, closing the LLC loophole and banning outside income, would be significant advancements. Bail reform to end cash bail and bring racial justice to our system, election reform for early voting, gun safety measures including increasing the waiting period, strengthening rent laws by ending vacancy decontrol, and the DREAM Act are issues where progress is possible and meaningful.
Legislation protecting a woman’s right to choose, the Child Victims Act, and LGBTQ rights could also pass.
I understand that you may not support all these issues but many Republicans have said they would pass these bills if they came to the floor. New Yorkers deserve at least transparency on where individual legislators stand. I appreciate different positions, but not the refusal to take a position on these important issues – no one should.
These are no ordinary times. The federal administration in Washington has evidenced an anti-New York attitude, philosophy and agenda. The federal tax bill that removes full state and local tax deductibility and its anti-immigrant philosophy is destructive to our state. They disrespect the diversity that our communities represent. In this atmosphere, state action has never been more important. We can change New York for the better and protect our state from adverse federal action. I understand your point that a majority shift will cause an upheaval in the Senate, but the state budget has been passed and no significant legislation currently has the chance of moving. Any legislation that we could get done with the current Senate configuration we did get done. Upheaval in the Senate bureaucracy is manageable and Senate staff reconfigurations are not a significant factor in this context.
There is no significant change without disruption. The status quo takes force to move. I also believe registered Democrats should stand united at this definitive moment.
Usually an executive is warned to avoid “interference” with the legislative branch of government. Through the years governors have been criticized for meddling with Senate or Assembly leadership decisions as it violated the separation of powers policy. These are not usual days. I have also said I am committed to electing a functional Democratic majority as 32 is not a functional conference as the recent past dysfunctional episodes have proven. From that perspective, let me say that the Democratic Conference will not need you in November the way they need you now. I believe there will be additional Democrats who win and are seated for the next legislature. You have said that you act in the best interest of your constituents. For their benefit, now is the time that matters. I know what you said yesterday, but this morning brings a new reality.
We have approximately six weeks remaining in the legislative session, and I hope we don’t squander the time. Public service affords us the opportunity to make positive change. I hope you seize and maximize your opportunity to improve the state for all.
cc: Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo