By Rebecca Henely
Amid the formation of a new coalition between the state Senate Republicans and the breakaway Independent Democratic Council, the Democrats voted to oust Sen. John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) as their leader in favor of Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers).
Sampson, first elected to the Senate in 1997, has led the Democratic Conference since 2009. The decision makes Stewart-Cousins the first woman to lead a conference in the state Legislature.
“I’m delighted that Andrea Stewart-Cousins was chosen to lead the Democratic Conference,” said Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone). “She represents the future of our party and the future of a progressive agenda.”
Sampson lost the Democrats’ confidence after failing to keep his membership in control of the upper house in Albany even though the Democrats had won a slim majority of the seats at 32-30. The Republicans have controlled the Senate for many years, while the Democrats have dominated the Assembly, which has led to gridlock in Albany on many issues.
Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said Sampson brought stability to the Democrats after a different group of Democrats known as the Gang of Four broke away to work with the Republicans in 2009. Despite this, he said the leadership always stood in the way of the Democrats having a focused conference in future years.
“I think it was something that had to be done,” Addabbo said.
The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in Hamden, Conn., released a study last week that said 53 percent of voters believed the coalition would bring good government while 30 percent characterized the coalition as some leaders trying to grab power. The poll also found 48 percent of voters want a coalition to choose what bills are voted on, with 31 percent in favor of Democrats choosing and 17 percent in favor of Republican choosing.
Despite what appeared to be a slim win for the Democrats in the Senate on Election Night, many factors left control of the upper house up in the air. Upstate, Democrat Terry Gipson seemed to beat incumbent Sen. Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie) and Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk had a lead over state Assemblyman George Amedore (R-Rotterdam) for a new seat drawn near Albany, but the races were so close that recounts were ordered.
Saland conceded to Gipson last Thursday, but Amedore appeared to have a slim edge of less than 100 votes and declared victory again Monday.
Some Democrats also rejected working with the party at large. Shortly after the election, Sen.-elect Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) decided to caucus with the Republicans, saying they would help him get more from his district. Earlier this month, Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) became the first Queens senator to join the four-member IDC led by Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), which broke away from Democrats two years ago.
“He believes strongly that if a coalition, bipartisan government — should it work — would be a very good model for the rest of the nation,” said Smith spokesman Hank Sheinkopf.
Without the results of the new seat, the current makeup of the Senate gives the coalition a 35 to 27 lead.
Sheinkopf said the Quinnipiac poll proves that the electorate wants “government that works” and not “politics.”
“It’s exactly the opposite of what’s occurring in Washington right now,” he said.
But Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, was skeptical. He also said he did not think the Quinnipiac poll was written in a way that properly explained that the coalition was a joint undertaking by Republicans and the breakaway IDC.
“I could draft you a different question that would give you an opposite answer,” he said.
He also characterized the coalition’s platform as essentially the Republican’s and not bipartisan.
Stavisky, who said she no longer considers herself a minority legislator, had hopes that the IDC would return to the conference.
“We have five misguided folks who I think, ultimately, will remember that we’re Democrats,” she said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.