While establishment Democrats prevailed in statewide primaries last week, State Senate primaries were a different story. In several Democratic primaries across the state, insurgent candidates that emphasized grassroots organizing and far-left ideas successfully challenged incumbents.
Earlier this year, we reported on the dissolution of the State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). The IDC was a group of Democratic state senators that split off from the other Senate Democrats in January 2011 to escape from the corruption and dysfunction that reigned in the Senate Democratic Conference. The IDC was controversial in Albany because of its close working relationship with Senate Republicans; during the 2013-2014 legislative session, the Republicans and the IDC actually shared control of the Senate. While the IDC gained influence due to this arrangement and also gained an increased ability to get liberal bills passed, other Democrats resented the IDC for helping the GOP to remain in power.
This year, pressure from Democratic gubernatorial primary challenger Cynthia Nixon and others on the far left made it politically dangerous for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow the IDC to remain in existence. At an April 3 meeting in New York City, members of the IDC agreed—at the urging of the Governor—to dissolve their conference and rejoin the other Senate Democrats. It was also agreed that Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins would remain in her leadership role, that IDC Leader Jeff Klein would assume the role of second-in-command of the Senate Democrats, and that incumbent Democratic senators would refrain from supporting primary challenges against one another.
Despite this non-aggression pact, rank-and-file Democratic voters remained deeply displeased with the former members of the IDC. On primary day, they let their displeasure be known. All eight of the former members of the IDC faced primary challenges, and six were defeated. According to the New York State Board of Elections, the unofficial results of those races were as follows:
- Senate District 11: Sen. Tony Avella v. former New York City Comptroller John Liu. Winner: John Liu, 51%-45%.
- Senate District 13: Sen. Jose Peralta v. Jessica Ramos. Winner: Jessica Ramos, 51%-42%.
- Senate District 20: Sen. Jesse Hamilton v. Zellnor Myrie. Winner: Zellnor Myrie, 51%-43%.
- Senate District 23: Sen. Diane Savino v. Jasmine Robinson and Brandon Stradford. Winner: Sen. Diane Savino, 60%-18%-11%.
- Senate District 31: Sen. Marisol Alcantara v. former New York City Councilmember Robert Jackson and two others. Winner: Robert Jackson, 53%-36%.
- Senate District 34: Sen. Jeff Klein v. Alessandra Biaggi. Winner: Alessandra Biaggi, 53%-45%.
- Senate District 38: Sen. David Carlucci v. Julie Goldberg. Winner: Sen. David Carlucci, 52%-44%.
- Senate District 53: Sen. David Valesky v. Rachel May. Winner: Rachel May, 51%-47%.
Of the former IDC members’ primary results, the most surprising was the defeat of Sen. Jeff Klein. Sen. Klein was the leader of the IDC and was—until recently—one of the “four men in a room” during state budget negotiations. Sen. Klein’s political fortunes were damaged by an accusation of sexual misconduct made by a former staffer (Sen. Klein has denied the accusation). According to The New York Times, Sen. Klein’s campaign fell short despite spending a staggering sum of more than $2 million.