This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo brokered a deal between warring factions of his own party. The Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight senators that had been caucusing with Republicans in Albany, agreed to come back to the Democratic fold.
Political watchers in New York labeled it a cynical and self-serving move. It also came too late to assist student-loan activists in a signature battle that fell just short for the second straight year.
The reunification came after years in which the IDC maintained the Senate majority for Republicans, blocking progressive legislation from advancing. But pressure has been building, with serious primary challenges against seven IDC members and an insurgent threat from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon against Cuomo himself.
The reunification may succeed in draining some of the energy from those challenges, and with Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn IDC member, noncommittal on caucusing with Democrats, the merger didn’t change the balance of power in the Senate. Even if Democrats managed to get a numerical majority if Felder flipped to the Democrats after two special elections on April 24, parliamentary rules block the changeover of power during a legislative session without 38 votes, which Democrats will not have.
For Cuomo, the rationale is obvious. He’s facing a primary from Nixon, and he wants to shut her out of ballot lines that would take her to the general election in November, particularly from the left-leaning Working Families Party, whose convention is next month.
The IDC formed a week after Cuomo’s first election in 2011, conveniently tying his hands on legislation he didn’t particularly want to pass. In 2014, during a primary challenge from law professor Zephyr Teachout, a similar reunification was promised and Cuomo took the Working Families Party line, only for the IDC to break away after the elections. This looks to be a replay.
Most important, the merger comes after New York passed its state budget, the most important legislation of the year. That budget, dependent on Senate Republicans, was shorn of the kind of social legislation that a unified state government might have achieved. Merging the IDC with Democrats only after nearly everything has passed for the year has no impact. And Exhibit A of who gets hurt in Cuomo’s political gamesmanship is the student loan borrowers.
“Governor Cuomo had eight years to fully stop predatory student lending and the big banks who give generously to his campaign,” Nixon said in a statement to The Intercept. “He promises big and ultimately hands all power to his big money donors and the Republicans he puts in charge.”