The New York State Senate met for the first time since two Democrats were successful in special elections held on Tuesday. Though the Senate now has 32 Democrats, the number required to form a majority, it was back to business as usual with the GOP in charge.
Sen. Simcha Felder is the lone Democrat remaining with the Republican caucus, and giving the GOP the one seat needed to keep the majority in the chamber.
Two feuding factions of mainstream and independent democrats already reunited on Apr. 5.
Felder issued a statement before the polls closed Tuesday, saying he would remain with the Republicans because he wanted to prevent a mid session “political battle” that could jeopardize the jobs of hundreds of staffers who currently work for the majority.
Felder entered the Republican Party conference before the Senate met on Wednesday, saying he was sticking with his statement and did not want to say anything more about the subject.
“I’m not trying to be unfriendly,” Felder told reporters, “but I don’t want to answer any questions.”
Republicans expect him to keep his word. Sen. Patrick Gallivan represents portions of the Buffalo area.
“Senator Felder is an honorable man and he’s never shown himself to be anything but,” Gallivan said.
But Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still trying to convince Felder to change his mind. Cuomo wrote a letter to the Senator, saying that Felder is “pivotal” to the future of the Senate.
The governor and Senate Democrats want to pass a number of progressive proposals, including early voting, campaign finance reform and codifying the abortion rights in the Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade into New York law. Cuomo says he knows the Senator’s views might be more conservative on many of the issues than the rest of the Democrats, but he says if Felder gives the Democratic Party the majority, at least then the bills could be brought to the Senate floor for an up or down vote.
“Even on the issues that don’t pass, that may be controversial, at least there’s transparency,” Cuomo said. “Have the vote.”
The governor predicts that if Felder remains with the GOP, “nothing” will happen during the remaining 25 session days.
“The remaining issues, they will not do, period,” said Cuomo. “Take out the period, exclamation point.”
Later in the day following the Senate session, Felder opened the door up a crack to changing his mind.
“I never say never,” Felder said.
The Senator also would no longer commit to remaining with the Republicans through the end of the session.
“I don’t want to answer that question,” he said.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the Democratic Senate candidate in the special election in Westchester won by nearly 20 points in what was expected to be a close race. She expected the so-called “blue wave” to continue through the November elections, where she predicts Democrats will pick up more seats. She said it’s an “important time” and Felder has a choice.
“He can help to be part of the winds of change right now,” Stewart-Cousins said, “or he can wait, to just be part of the gust."
The session is not scheduled to end until June 20.