By Mark Hallum
Tamara Osherov, an anti-IDC activist from Fresh Meadows, joked as she led about 15 others protesting the breakaway progressive group, the Independent Democratic Conference, outside the office of state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside). “It stands for the Insincere Democratic Conference,” she said.
The May 24 demonstration organized by the Working Families Party and NYIndivisible, a group engaging elected officials to put “people over party,” called on IDC members in Queens – Avella and Sen. Jose Peralta of Elmhurst to rejoin the mainline ranks of the Democratic Party.
The day prior to the rally, Democrat Brian Benjamin won a special election to the state Senate for Harlem. The landslide vote of about 98 percent in his favor reclaimed the Democratic majority with 32 of the 63 seats in the chamber.
Avella and Peralta are two of the eight members who have been visited by demonstrators in recent months. As the Democratic Party gained a tight majority in the Senate, those opposed to the IDC were trying to keep the pressure on separatists to return to their original affiliation.
State Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) has caucused and voted alongside the GOP since he was elected as a progressive, bringing the number of Dems caucusing apart from the mainline party to nine.
“The Democrats were voted into the majority in the Senate and should be functioning as a majority, but they’re not because the IDC caucuses separately, leaving the majority to the Republicans,” said one protester, who was bused in from outside of Queens. “Some progressive legislation gets through, sometimes watered down. But many, many bills don’t even make it to floor. That’s because we are not functioning as a majority. We would like to see single payer pass, the Dream Act, women’s reproductive health and other issues.”
But Avella is a sponsor of many of the bills anti-IDC organizers fear are being blocked. He pointed out that the Dream Act, which grants undocumented immigrants access to financial aid for higher education, is just one that has had his name on every version written. Avella is also a sponsor for single payer health insurance and Genda, a bill aiming to expand protections for transgender and other gender identities in hate-crime cases.
Although Osherov and other protesters spoke out strongly against the IDC, Osherovsaid she and others involved would be more than happy to see Avella and other members of the IDC return to the mainline Democratic Party.
Osherov confronted Avella at a Democratic club meeting where he was speaking the night after the rally with various allegations about IDC members, the senator said. Avella claimed anti-IDC sentiment sits on a foundation of lies.
“Once she got up and said that I caucus with Republicans. Not true. That I vote with the Republicans. Not true. That I voted to make Sen. Flanagan, who’s a Republican, head of the Senate. Again, not true,” Avella said. “I have no problem with people who dispute my voting record and want to talk to me. But I told her you’re spreading this fake news and you’re just not listening. You don’t know the facts. I understand the frustration with a lot of Democrats who’ve not been involved in the political process, that they’re very upset with Trump being elected president, and obviously his policies. But don’t direct it against fellow Democrats. Take that energy and work against Republican districts. Get Republicans to change their vote. She didn’t want to hear that.”
Avella went on to slam the Working Families Party for its involvement with anti-IDC organizations by referring to them as the “original breakaway Democrats.”
Stipends paid to eight IDC members and Republican members of the Senate and have been under review by the U.S. attorney and the state attorney general’s office for possible corruption. Some senators had received the stipends, known as “lulus,” for chairing committees, although paperwork showed they did not actually lead the panels they served on. The Albany district attorney, however, has decided against investigating the bonuses, according to the Daily News. Avella has strongly denied accepting lulus for his involvement with different committees during his entire tenure in the Senate.
“Dating back to my days as a member of the City Council, I have never accepted a lulu, even though I was afforded one under the rules of the New York City Council and State Senate,” Avella said in press release, denying a Daily News claim that he was among those who received lulus. “Throughout my career in government, I have refused to accept my lulu, year after year, because I refuse to be beholden to the leadership, Republican or Democrat.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall