State Sen. Jeff Klein and the other three members of the Independent Democratic Conference have accepted recommendations from the Senate Republicans to chair legislative committees, positions that come with a $12,500 stipend.
And members of the Democratic Minority, which received no chairmanships, are not happy.
Mr. Klein and state Sens. Diane Savino, who represents parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn, David J. Valesky of Oneida, and David Carlucci, of Rockland County, founded the IDC on Jan. 5 to, as they said in a statement, “push for commonsense solutions to problems facing this state, break the hyper-partisan gridlock that has gripped this chamber, and work to restore the public’s trust in its public officials.”
Within two conference system in the state Senate, the Majority and Minority Leaders assign committee roles to their own members. The Majority chooses the chairs and the Minority chooses one high-ranking senator per committee. Since the IDC is the third conference, the group was relying on the other two conferences to assign them committee roles.
On Jan. 24, after weeks of waiting for committee assignments, Democratic Minority Leader John Sampson assigned the four breakaway Democrats of the IDC to minor roles on committees.
Mr. Klein will serve on the Local Government, Cultural Affairs, Veterans, and Mental Health committees; Ms. Savino will serve on the Civil Service, Banks and Veterans committees; Mr. Valesky will serve on the Agriculture, Transportation, Banks and Cultural Affairs committees; Mr. Carlucci will serve on the Banks, Veterans, Higher Education and Electronics committees.
Mr. Sampson gave members of the IDC no ranking positions placed them on three or four committees each (as opposed to five or six committees most other state senators received three weeks ago). Mr. Klein characterized Mr. Sampson’s move as more of the same “political games” and said that Mr. Sampson was doing “everything possible to be politically vindictive” after Mr. Klein formed the IDC.
In response to the snub, members of the IDC reached out to state Sen. Majority Leader Dean Skelos for greater committee roles. On Jan. 25, the Republican Majority announced it would give chairmanships to each member of the IDC.
Three of the senators were appointed on Jan. 25, and Mr. Klein’s chairmanship will come next week when the Republican Majority can reinstate the Committee of Alcohol and Substance Abuse and appoint him as its chair. The committee exists in the state assembly but has been defunct in the state Senate for years. The Republicans are bringing it back for Mr. Klein, who asked for the position.
Ms. Savino will chair the Children and Families committee; Mr. Valesky will chair the Aging committee; and Mr. Carlucci will co-chair the Administrative Regulations Review commission.
Mr. Klein said he believed the appointments were made “in the spirit of bipartisanship.” He said he had applauded Mr. Sampson’s decision to appoint two Republican chairs when Democrats had the majority.
But many Democrats believe Republicans are trying to strengthen their narrow 32-30 majority and hope the four breakaway Democrats will become useful allies to help pass legislation.
Mr. Klein refuted that idea and said being given a chair position from the Republicans will not affect the way he votes.
“They’ll see soon enough we’re going to vote what’s best for our constituents and what’s best for the residents in the state of New York,” he said.
In the first state Senate vote since the announcement, all four members of the IDC voted with Republicans to pass a property tax cap.
The Democratic Minority, which was weakened when Mr. Klein and the three other rebel democrats broke-off to form their own conference earlier this month, sees the chairmanships as a confirmation that the defection was about money and power.
“Sen. Klein asked to chair a committee that doesn’t exist so he can get a bonus he doesn’t deserve. Instead of reducing the cost of government, Sen. Klein is making it bigger and more expensive. This hypocrisy proves it’s all about the power, perks and now the payoff,” said Austin Shafran, spokesperson for the Senate Democrats.
Mr. Klein shot back that while he will receive a $12,500 stipend for the chairmanship, he let go of $20,500 a year when he stepped down as the Deputy Minority Leader on Jan. 2.
“This was not a deal about power. We weren’t trading to be chairs,” he said. “We want to be relevant Democrats and pass legislation in a bipartisan fashion.”
Mr. Klein said he is looking forward to chairing the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Committee and wants to continue his campaign against caffeinated alcoholic beverage like FourLoko and monitor the effect of last year’s reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
“I’m going to use this committee to make sure we’re actually treating these individuals correctly. Jail time doesn’t work,” he said.
On Jan. 24, Mr. Klein and the other IDC members approached the Senate Majority and asked to be seated together, causing a yelling match on the Senate floor between Brooklyn state Senator Eric Adams and the GOP’s Deputy Majority Leader John Libous.
Mr. Adams had some words for the four members of the IDC.
“I’m ashamed of my four colleagues that are making this into this charade that it ought not to be. There are two conferences in this Senate: the majority and the minority,” he said.
Mr. Klein responded to these comments in a recent interview.
“We said this has been about governing in a bipartisan fashion. We are four democrats that want to do things different,” he said.