Klein Fends Off Koppell as IDC Remains Intact
Klein's election night victory was a show of strength for his Independent Democratic Conference, who could be more powerful than ever.
The New York state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, once thought to be in danger of falling apart, could go into the next legislative session more powerful than ever after its leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, handily defeated his Democratic primary opponent Oliver Koppell Tuesday night.
Klein, who has agreed to a new power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats after two years conferencing with Republicans, took the stage at Maestro's, a banquet hall in the Morris Park section of the Bronx alongside political allies such as Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr., Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, and Klein's girlfriend and fellow IDC colleague, state Sen. Diane Savino. There he reminded the audience of all that the IDC accomplished in his victory speech, sounding for a moment like a politician who was not so much changing his political stripes, but finishing what he had started.
"I still believe today that four years ago, when we formed the Independent Democratic Conference, we made history because what we did is take a step back and say that we could do better, that the way that government was working in Albany wasn't what we bargained for," Klein said. "[Voters] wanted a group of people to hold true to their Democratic values, but at the same time make government work for you, and we achieved that, and we're very proud of that."
Klein rattled off a list of key policy achievements accomplished under IDC leadership, including the SAFE Act, minimum wage increase, and funding universal pre-K throughout the state. The crowd, apparently moved by this legislative reminder, launched into a chant of "I-D-C! I-D-C!" with Klein joining in like the president of a college fraternity at a pep rally.
"When an election season ends, you celebrate your victories, and then you work on the things you want to get done in the future, and our work isn't done," Klein continued, naming the DREAM Act and codifying abortion rights, both of which have fallen short of passage two sessions in a row, as the conference's first priorities. "When we go back up to Albany, we're gonna work hard because we're not there yet."
There was never a palpable sense of unease at Maestro's, an extension of Klein's calm and cool demanor on the campaign trail. The banquet hall was a gaudy room done up with crystal chandeliers, serving a delicious Italian buffet, with a few elected officials and their staffs milling around and mingling, a much more extravagant location than your typical election night party. Klein's staff sat at a table in the middle of the room, but hardly looked nervous as they scrolled through their cell phones. And why worry? By all indications, both anecdotally and empirically, polling stations throughout the district were populated with Klein supporters, even in supposed Koppell strongholds like Riverdale.
Sure enough, as the election results started trickling in, the air of confidence Klein's staff was carrying was fully realized. The final tally saw Klein trounce Koppell to the tune of a 34-point victory, garnering 66.9 percent of the vote to Koppell's 33.1. And when Klein announced on stage that another IDC cohort, Queens Sen. Tony Avella, had fended off a spirited challenge from former city comptroller John Liu, winning 52.2 percent of the vote, it meant the pieces were starting to fall into place for Klein's new power sharing agreement with Senate Democrats to come to fruition.
In an interview after his speech, Klein expressed excitement at what the arrangement could accomplish, while cautioning that it is wholly dependent on Senate Democrats holding up their end of the bargain to retain, and add to, their slim majority. Klein also alluded to a willingness to open up the IDC to any Democratic senator that wanted to join. In fact, Savino said that another primary night winner, Jesse Hamilton, who won Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams' vacant Senate seat, has declared that he would caucus with the IDC.
"I'm hopeful that we can have the same type of legislative accomplishments, but let me be clear, if we want to continue to move forward and pass the DREAM Act, to make sure that we can codify Roe v. Wade, and make sure a woman has a right to choose in New York, we have to elect better Democrats, Democrats support those issues," Klein said. "The way we're going to achieve that is, I think the Independent Democratic Conference is gonna grow. One of the things I've said time and time again, we're not an exclusive club, we're open to anyone who's serious about governing, serious about achieving core Democratic legislative accomplishments, and progressive values, and I think we can retain that."
Savino also held court with reporters after Klein's speech, echoing much of the same sentiment and defending the original power-sharing agreement the IDC had with Republicans as necessary at the time. To that end, Savino was asked whether it would be awkward working with some of the elected officials in the state Legislature who supported Koppell, and her answer perfectly encapsulated the chameleon-esque tendencies of both her and Klein to preserve their power by adapting to the poltical sea change.
"I have a very simple rule in life, you never freeze people in time, because you never know, today's opponent is tomorrow's ally," Savino said.
And if the Democratic majority fails to hold after November's general election?
Savino shrugged. "I don't know what I'm gonna have for lunch tomorrow, ok?"