In renewed political shifting within New York's Senate, a Democrat announced Tuesday he will serve with the Republican conference, further eroding the tentative majority Democrats appeared to win in elections a week ago.
Sen.-elect Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, issued a statement after meeting with Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos. Felder won the 17th Senate District over a Republican incumbent, David Storbin, in the heavily Democratic district. Felder had made it clear in closing weeks of the campaign that he might sit with Republicans if they could better serve his constituents.
Republicans went into the elections with a 33-29 majority. But on Election Day, Democrats appeared to have won a 31-30 majority, with their candidates leading in two other races that will be decided weeks from now by counts of absentee ballots.
Felder's move would even the field pending the two races that are too close to call.
His decision also shows he has faith in a Republican-led coalition to run the Senate, where the majority has near-complete control over policies and spending as well as assigning lucrative leadership posts.
That coalition, however, will depend on four breakaway Democrats in what they call the Independent Democratic Conference, who have been closely allied with Republicans. That conference isn't yet saying if it will side with Republicans to form a coalition majority or return to the Democratic conference, creating a Democratic majority for the first time since 2008-1010.
"Earlier today, I met with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos," Felder said in a statement. "We discussed the issues that concern my constituents. By joining him and the Senate Majority Conference I will be able to serve the people who elected me, and advance a legislative agenda that best meets their needs."
It is illegal to cast a vote in the state Legislature in exchange for any compensation or favor. Republicans said only that policies such as job creation were discussed.
"Mr. Felder has shared with me the issues that are most important to his constituents, including economic development and job creation, reducing taxes and providing financial relief for hardworking families," Skelos said. "Senator-elect Felder will be a valuable member of our conference as we work to address the concerns raised by his community and continue to move this state forward."
Felder's decision may be setting into motion a coalition of maverick Democrats with Republicans that led to chaotic power grabs and gridlock during the Democratic majority of 2008-2010. The two key Democrats who led then ended that coup and extracted lucrative leadership posts. They have since been convicted of crimes and forced from the Senate.
The Democratic conference is still counting on most Democrats unifying before a majority is chosen after Jan. 1. That decision, like all measures in the Senate, requires 32 votes.
"The voters sent a clear message on election night that they want the Senate led by a Democratic majority," said Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy. "We are confident that when the Senate convenes in January, there will be that Democratic majority and we look forward to working with Governor Cuomo to achieve the progressive agenda he has laid out."