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Queens Chronicle

NYS Senate control vague as Simcha Felder goes with GOP

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Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 10:21 am, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

Democrats appear to have won a majority in the next session of the state Senate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be in control of the chamber, with all the perks that brings.

For one, two races remain undecided, the one for a new seat west of Albany that pits Republican George Amedore against Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk, and the one between incumbent Sen. Steve Saland (R-Poughkeepsie) and Democratic challenger Terry Gipson. In the latter race, Conservative nominee Neil Di Carlo has taken votes away from Saland.

Another reason is that there is a group of four Democrats, the Independent Democratic Caucus, who do not caucus with the rest of their party now.

And finally, new Sen.-elect Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) just announced that he will be caucusing with the Republicans, apparently after Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-LI) promised him enough benefits for doing so. Felder had played the free agent, announcing that he would join with whichever party offered more for his district. He had also run on the Conservative Party line, though in New York State that’s hardly an ideological matter, it’s just something many candidates seek to increase the number of times their names appear on the ballot.

All that means that the Democrats either won’t end up with the 32-31 majority they appeared to win on Tuesday, or that even if they do, it won’t translate into everything from heading committees and controlling the agenda to getting the bigger, airier offices in the state Capitol.

Of course all the Democrats outside of Felder and the IDC would be disappointed. But among those who might be most let down would be Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), who heads the party’s state Senate Committee. He has to get a lot of credit for just coming close to retaking the majority, and for the surprisingly wide 14-point margin of victory enjoyed by Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) in his successful re-election bid against City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). And as the conference’s political leader, Gianaris would be a strong possibility for majority leader if the Democrats were put in charge.

Addabbo looked forward to the possibility of the majority in a post-election interview with the Queens Chronicle’s editorial board. But he also acknowledged that the last time the Democrats had control, for a scant two years, mistakes were made that cost the party the leadership in the next election.

“We need, as Democrats, to learn from our mistakes from when we had the majority in 2009 and 2010,” Addabbo said, “and I think we can. I know we can.”

Addabbo also said that if he and his colleagues put their egos aside, they should be able to “find a formula” that could bring Simcha and the IDC members into the Democratic caucus.

“We always think as Democrats we have the issues on our side in this blue state,” he continued. “The Democrats have the message.”

On the other hand, he acknowledged, Gov. Cuomo seems to like having the Republicans in the Senate majority. That’s helped him get through centrist legislation like the establishment of the Tier 6 system, which reduces benefits for new and future public employees as a cost-saving measure.

“It’s no secret the governor frustrated many in the Democratic conference by playing with the Republicans,” Addabbo said.

The senator, who was first elected in 2008 and therefore has spent one session in the majority and one in the minority, did see one silver lining in the possibility of the Republicans retaining control.

“I’m tired of changing offices,” he said.

He proposes allocating offices based on seniority, with the longest-serving members getting their pick without regard to who’s in the majority. That would at least bring some stability to a state capital that hasn’t seen much of that for quite some time.

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