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Queens Chronicle

National Dems talk IDC options for ’18

DNC’s Ellison favors outreach over party primaries — for now, anyway

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Posted: Thursday, July 6, 2017 10:30 am

Former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) is famous for saying that “all politics is local.”

But local politics in Queens went national last Saturday, and could stoke at least some interest in 2018.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in St. Albans on Saturday that New York state Democrats must deal one way or another with the state Senate’s eight-member Independent Democratic Conference.

The IDC, which includes Sens. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), caucuses and has a power-sharing agreement with the Senate Republicans, giving the GOP control of a body in which Democrats have a nominal 32-31 advantage. Democrat Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) also caucuses with the Republicans.

Ellison told a crowd of 500 Democrats that he would prefer some IDC outreach — for now.

“I would like to try and bring them back into the fold — you catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” Ellison said, speaking at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center. “If not, you have to give them primaries.”

Ellison, the keynote speaker at the event and the last one to assume the podium, was far from alone, with the possibility of primaries also voiced by U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau), Assemblyman and DNC Vice Chairman Michael Blake (D-Bronx) and State Democratic Committee Executive Director Basil Smikle.

Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said in an email that “considering the curious situation of New York’s upper chamber,” it is not surprising that the 2018 race has attracted some attention.

But he said the presence next year of Congressional and U.S. Senate races will keep the IDC matter from becoming a national cause like the recent special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

“The IDC is a principal hindrance to full Democratic control of the Empire State’s ‘trifecta’ — the governorship and both state legislative chambers — so attempts by other Democrats to dislodge IDC members would not be surprising,” Skelley said. “The status of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) as a possible 2020 presidential candidate will also draw interest to New York.”

He said Albany could draw some attention from Democrats with an interest in improving the party’s “down-the-ballot” standing that took such a beating during former President Barack Obama’s two terms.

Brian Browne, assistant vice president for government relations and a political science professor at St. John’s University, said picking off all eight members could be a tall order for Democrats.

“[Marisol] Alcantara (D-Manhattan) already has an announced challenger,” Browne said. “But I don’t see Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) or Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) facing a primary. I do think Queens Democrats are very angry with Peralta for switching.”

As for Avella?

“Tony Avella has had a lot of challengers,” Browne said.

Elenor Denker of Woodside is a member of Indivisible Queens, the local chapter of a national organization dedicated to countering initiatives of the Trump administration.

She is one of the Queens Democrats displeased with members of the IDC.

“I don’t even live in [Peralta’s or Avella’s] districts,” Denker told the Chronicle. “But if I vote Democratic and my senator joins the Republicans, he doesn’t represent me. People are disenfranchised.”

Denker said the balance of power in the state Senate is very much a national issue, as the state is likely to be called upon to take up slack and fill gaps in programs and services that Trump and congressional Republicans are looking to pull back.

Browne said it is still early for 2018 predictions. He thinks the Democrats will start by following Ellison’s lead on reconciliation as opposed to immediate intraparty warfare.

He also said IDC members, individually and as a group, have one advantage.

“They have a record of some success,” he said. “People come to them to get things done.”

Skelley also said the inherent advantages of incumbency make it unlikely that all eight would be unseated.

“Incumbents aren’t easy to beat for many reasons, including greater access to resources and voter familiarity with them,” he said. “Primary challenges where an IDC member is cast as a Democrat-in-name-only could be dangerous to the IDC members.” But he added that a vulnerable incumbent might draw multiple primary challengers.

“If that’s the case, divided intraparty opposition would likely make it easier for an IDC incumbent to survive with only a plurality of the primary vote,” he said. “There are some Southern states that have primary runoff elections if no one wins a majority, but that isn’t the case in New York. So add that to the other reasons it can be difficult to beat an incumbent.”

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