“I can confirm that Sen. Malcolm Smith has joined the IDC!” Eric Soufer, a spokesman for the group, tweeted Tuesday.
The Independent Democratic Caucus welcomed Smith (D-Hollis), the fifth renegade Democrat to split from the main party and join the group. The decision makes the balance of power in the 2013 Senate unclear, since neither Republicans nor Democrats won the majority on Election Day.
Republicans have taken 30 seats in the 63-seat Senate, grabbing an extra one with the addition of Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who has said he would caucus with them. That leaves the GOP one short of a majority with a Democrat leading in the undetermined 41st District race and the winner in 46th District race too close to call.
“The senator has experienced what it’s like when Albany doesn’t work correctly and he wants to make sure that government is bipartisan and that coalitions are formed to get things done for the taxpayers,” Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for Smith, told the Chronicle on Wednesday.
The IDC is led by Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) and besides Smith, its other members are state Sens. David Carlucci (D-Rockland-Orange), Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and David Valesky (D-Oneida).
Asked if Smith is concerned the move would hurt Democrats by possibly costing them the majority in the chamber, Sheinkopf said, “Senator Smith doesn’t lead the Senate. Senator Klein doesn’t lead the Senate. We just want to make sure things get done.”
The IDC is seeking to change the body’s rules in order to become a permanent third conference and to form a coalition with the Republicans to run the chamber. Smith has also been trying to drum up support from the GOP as he ponders a move to run for mayor on that line.
Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) said she was shocked when she heard about Smith’s decision to join the IDC, but says the lawmaker has always “done different things that he thinks are good moves.”
“I don’t like Democrats becoming Republicans,” Clark added. “This climate hasn’t worked too well for Republicans, but maybe now in the State of New York it will. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) was also surprised by Smith’s move.
“I think, like a lot of people, I’m still digesting it,” Scarborough said. “If it helps to get things done in Albany and it’s beneficial to Southeast Queens and the people he represents, then fine.”
Asked whether he thinks it would hurt his party by taking away its possible majority, Scarborough said, “It was problematic before this happened. It’s hard to say what will happen to the Senate leadership.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) called Smith’s decision “a power grab,” and added that “it is unfortunate because it defeats the will of the people who voted in favor of having the Democrats control the Senate.”
Avella also stated that he thinks the move is connected to Smith’s interest in a Republican run for mayor.