Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Party’s Over

The state legislature put the wraps on another six-month session that led to the fewest number of bills being sent to the governor’s desk in recent years. State lawmakers met for 60 days between January and June, for an average of 10 days a month. They spent the other days in their districts handling constituent concerns, going on overseas junkets, spending time with family, and attending local events such as parades and fundraisers.

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Not too long ago, state lawmakers were gracious and cordial to each other. They knew to separate governing (January through June) from politicking (June through November). The minority was always given some measure of respect and its members were able to go back to their district and crow about some legislation they played a major role in adopting.

Not this year. The session devolved into a political quagmire on so many levels and, as a result, very little was accomplished. In the 63-member State Senate, Tom Croci (R – Sayville, Suffolk County) set sail for active duty as a commander in the Navy. As a result, legislative gridlock tightened like a locked vice grip.

The Senate cancelled a session day, then Lt. Governor, Kathy Hochul, who presides over the Senate and casts tie-breaking votes, was accused of not properly running the chamber according to Senate rules and members of the former Independent Democratic Conference (I.D.C.) lost their committee chairmanships, large staff appropriations, and stipends.

On top of all this, five Republican members announced they would not seek reelection, causing the Democrats to salivate at the prospect of becoming the majority for the first time in a decade.

Then there was the Felder Factor. After the eight-member I.D.C. rejoined the 23-member mainline Democrats after several years of aligning with the GOP, the Democratic conference had 31 members. The Republican conference did as well. Felder is a Democrat (Boro Park, Midwood, Brooklyn), but he caucused with the Republican conference, so the Democrats were stymied and remained the minority in the upper house.

Republican and Conservative party leaders told The Jewish Press they will continue to financially support Felder and offer valuable volunteer manpower for the man dubbed a “DINO,” Democrat In Name Only. Indeed, Felder has engendered so much outrage that Blake Morris, a self-described secular Jew, is challenging him for his seat. He says he is running on several important issues in the district, particularly housing and transportation. He also hopes to tap into the emotions of non-ultra-Orthodox voters in the district.

Animosity toward Felder was on display at the state Democratic convention last month at Hofstra University on Long Island as party leaders approved a resolution to support Felder’s opponent. They also let it be known that they want to strip Felder of his Democratic credentials. Essentially, party leaders want to kick Felder out of the Democratic Party.

Such a move would require the approval of the Kings County Democratic Committee, but County Democratic Chairman Frank Seddio is standing by Felder. He told The Jewish Press that many elected officials have committed more egregious deed without having their party credentials revoked.

County Democratic Chairman Frank Seddio

Seddio’s sentiments were echoed by other committee members, including District Leader David Schwartz: “It’s a meaningless sham and a disgrace. No vote was taken…. Many members of the Democratic conference defected in the past, but no one was expelled from the party. The double standards are shocking. Expulsion is not the way to reunite the party, and certainly not when the only vote was by the knock of a hammer.”

Meanwhile, in the Assembly, emotions ran high when an enrolled Democrat from Erie County, Erik Bohen, was elected on the Republican and Conservative party lines but wanted to sit with the Democratic conference. Local party officials refused to endorse Bohen in the special March election so he ran on any political party line whose officials would accept him.

After he won the election, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D – Bronx) refused to allow him to join the Democratic conference and the Republicans in the Assembly had no appetite to allow another Felder situation. So Bohen’s desk in the Assembly was situated in between Democrats and Republicans with the desks on either side pushed away, leaving Bohen to feel like a pariah.

As for legislative business: Dozens of major issues were left undone. One example: Assembly Democrats balked at passing legislation aimed at catching drivers who pass school buses discharging young students. Speaker Heastie refused to even meet with the governor or his Senate counterpart to hash out major issues.

In any event, the party is now over, and another one is now beginning as incumbents and challengers battle it out on the campaign trail over the next four months.

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Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.
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