Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Senator Felder stays with the GOP, denying Democrats a ruling majority

Matt Ryan New York Now

Even before the results of two special elections Tuesday in the State Senate were decided, the lone Democratic Senator who caucuses with the Republicans says he’s sticking with the GOP. That means Democrats will likely not control the Senate any time this year.

Senator Simcha Felder said in a statement that, with only 25 days remaining in this year’s legislative session, he wants to do what’s best for his constituents.

“Political gamesmanship must not be allowed to jeopardize the leadership, committee structure and staff of the New York State Senate and push this institution into turmoil,” Felder said. Felder added that he fears if some of the races are close, it might lead to weeks of court battles, further paralyzing the Senate.

Democrats had hoped that if Felder decided to go back to their party that might mean that a number of progressive measures could be approved in New York this session, including, early voting , the child victims act to allow survivors of childhood sexual abuse their day in court, and campaign finance reform.

But, even if Felder had rejoined the Democrats, the conservative leaning Democrat from Brooklyn was not on board with many of the progressive items, and so they might have ultimately failed to pass anyway.

GOP Senators helped Felder get a key item he wanted in the recently approved state budget, an easing of rules on curriculum for Yeshiva religious schools.  Now, apparently Senator Felder is returning the favor.

A spokesman for the Senate Republicans, Scott Reif , says the GOP Senators are “thrilled” and called him “an important and trusted member of our conference”.   

The Senate Democrats also issued a statement, saying a “blue wave” is sweeping the country, and that they fully expect to pick up enough Democratic seats in the November elections to take back the Senate. Senate Democratic Communications Director Mike Murphy said “the voters are sick and tired of Democrats that empower Trump Republicans” .

Even though Felder says his decision to remain with the Republicans is final, Governor Cuomo is not ready to give up. In a statement, the governor’s spokeswoman Dani Lever says Cuomo still wants Democrats to unify, saying “ this conversation will continue in the morning”.   

Democrats did win two special elections for the New York state Senate Tuesday.  In Westchester County, Democratic Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer beat Republican Julie Killian in a race that Republicans had hoped would be close. With nearly 90 percent of the precincts reporting late Tuesday, Mayer was ahead by 16 percentage points.

In the Bronx, Democratic Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda easily dispatched Republican Patrick Delices and Reform Party candidate Pamela Stewart-Martinez in a Senate district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 20-to-1. With 75 percent of the precincts reporting, Sepulveda had more than 90 percent of the vote.

Democrats said they will now focus on winning more seats in November to build a clear majority and wrest Senate control from the GOP.

"The voters have spoken, and we again have 32 Democrats in the state Senate," said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers, the Democratic leader. "These electoral wins are part of the 'blue wave' sweeping our state and nation which will help even more Senate Democratic candidates win in the upcoming general election."

This story includes reporting by the Associated Press.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.