The Case Against Jeff Klein and the IDC

The Independent Democratic Conference is a group of eight state senators who have entered into a power-sharing agreement with the Republicans that helps the GOP control the Senate even in years when they hold a minority of the 63 seats. In return, the IDC members get bigger offices, extra staff, and in some cases committee chairmanships.

Led by Jeffrey Klein (Bronx-Westchester), the IDC puffs itself up as a force for “progressive” legislation. They point to increasing the state minimum wage, a paid family-leave program, and raising the age for criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. In fact, all these accomplishments were seriously watered-down half-measures, or even quarter-measures, which Klein had to negotiate with Republican leader John Flanagan (Suffolk County).

Some IDC members have sponsored pro-tenant measures. But Klein has refused to put his name on a single one, as has Diane Savino (Staten Island-Brooklyn), although they both represent thousands of rent-regulated tenants. In simple terms, Jeff Klein is a landlord operative, working to make sure that tenant-favorable legislation does not see the light of day.

Klein is a formidable fundraiser, raking in large sums from real-estate donors to help himself and other IDC members, including more than $500,000 last year for independent expenditures on behalf of Marisol Alcántara, who eked out a win in a four-way Democratic primary in upper Manhattan. Alcántara has sponsored several tenant bills, but that is meaningless as long as they are opposed by Klein and Flanagan.

Klein’s story is that he started the IDC because he was upset with the “dysfunctional” Democrats in 2009-2010, when they had a one-vote majority. This story is claptrap. He was the second-ranking Democratic Senate leader in those years, and also headed the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. But Klein’s efforts resulted in the GOP’s recapturing control by one vote in the 2010 election, and he left the DSCC $3 million in debt. His colleagues were furious, and he was replaced as DSCC head by his bitter enemy Mike Gianaris (Queens). A few weeks later, he announced the creation of the IDC. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s surrogates recently came forward with a plan to reunite the mainstream Democrats and the IDC. This would create a bare Democratic majority (32-31), and make Andrea Stewart-Cousins (Westchester) and Klein co-leaders. The plan depends on several dubious pieces falling into place, including nominal Democrat Simcha Felder of Brooklyn ending his collaboration with the Republicans, and has been attacked by virtually every progressive organization in the state. Some groups are running candidates against IDC members in the Democratic primary, even though the plan calls for the two groups to forgo such challenges.

The Senate now has 31 Republicans and 30 Democrats, with two vacant seats formerly occupied by Democrats. Cuomo is delaying setting a date for a special election to fill those two seats (as well as nine vacant seats in the Assembly), thus leaving Flanagan as majority leader. The governor has stated that he wants to wait until after the state budget, due April 1, has been adopted, so he can negotiate the terms with Flanagan and Klein.