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Democrats who empower Republicans in State Senate try to turn tables on critics

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Democrats who empower Republicans in State Senate try to turn tables on critics

The Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight state senators elected as Democrats who have lent their support to Senate Republicans, are facing escalating backlash from advocates around the state–some of whom are paying more attention to local politics in the face of a Donald Trump presidency.

Speaking with reporters on Feb. 14, IDC head Sen. Jeff Klein characterized the recent constituent backlash against Sen. Jose Peralta who joined the IDC in January as “racist.” Sens. Marisol Alcantara, Jesse Hamilton and Jose Peralta all joined the IDC in the last five months just as Trump took power.

“I don’t think there’s any coincidence that when members of color join the IDC, like Sen. Hamilton, Sen. Peralta, and of course Sen. Alcantara—who ran in the primary of an open IDC member, or someone that would join the IDC—all of the sudden they’re being attacked,” Klein told reporters.

Sources told the New York Post that Sen. Peralta had been paying child support and tuition along with substantial credit-card debts, leading to the public’s distrust in his motives. That’s when Alcantara came to Sen. Peralta’s defense after sources publicly disclosed his finances.

Klein and his colleagues have seemed eager to paint their critics as racists–until very recently they were attacked for being a tiny all-white conference that was subverting the will of hundreds of non-white voters in New York City who voted for Democrats who conference with regular Democrats in the Senate.

In caucusing with Republicans, the IDC has empowered Senate Republicans who vociferously oppose legislation like the DREAM Act, tenants protections to keep housing affordable, GENDA (legislation to protect the LGBT community from discrimination), and an effort to codify Roe v. Wade in state law. The IDC has touted their ability to negotiate and pass a major minimum wage increase and paid family leave. They’ve also recently presented their legislative proposals as “anti-Trump.” Mainstream Democrats unveiled a package of anti-Trump measures earlier in the year.

State Sen. Diane Savino told The Alt she agrees with Klein regarding the recent backlash against their IDC colleagues, calling it “disgusting” and “obnoxious”.

“I agree with him [Klein] myself” Savino said. “Quite frankly, it’s disgusting and obnoxious, to throw out someone’s financial information like that.”

Sen. Alcantara issued a statement saying: “When legislators of color make decisions based on helping their constituents—they are demonized and accused of having a financial motivation. That’s what’s happening here, and it’s racist.”

The majority of Sen. Alcantara’s campaign funding came from the IDC and the remaining funds from the Real Estate Board of New York, who fund senate Republicans.

Alcantara insists that the move is in her district’s best interest and the most-efficient way to pass progressive legislation. Mike McKee of Tenants PAC, a group dedicated to advancing tenant issues, called it a “Very bad move, not about progressive legislation.”

After winning the primary with 33 percent of the votes, Alcantara became the first Dominican lawmaker in the State’s legislature. The majority was split between a close call four-way, runner-ups Robert Jackson (R) and Micah Lasher (D) both finishing at about 30 percent.

Mainline Democrats and progressive advocates have long tried to pressure the IDC to reject their alliance with Republicans–the recent backlash spurred by Trump is a new opening for them.

There’s a real chance they could be voted out of office,” said Mike Murphy, communications director of the New York State Democratic Conference.

Murphy believes Democratic New Yorkers are becoming more aware of their local governments’ workings, and will not sit quietly in the shadow of a Republican administration.

As of now, the IDC consists of eight members with the last three defectors being minority additions to the previously all-white conference, with the exception of Malcolm Smith who was removed in 2013 after charges of corruption. Hamilton and Alcantara were among the latest additions to the renegade group, with Peralta, being the latest. Sen. Tony Avella, who joined the group in 2014 is busy with a long-shot challenge to Democratic New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio.

Recently defecting to the IDC, Peralta faces a major uproar in his district.  Peralta agreed to a town hall meeting to be held on Feb. 3, at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights in Queens. Invitations were not sent out, yet word spread via social media and a neighborhood listserv.

The scene at the Jewish center was hectic, and hostile. Police had set up a barricade to keep the protesters at bay. An IDC spokesperson framed the crowd as “supportive” on Twitter.

“More than 100 people were stuck outside, banging on the windows and chanting ‘Traitor’ and ‘No IDC,”  Mckee said.

Inside the center, Peralta was trying to keep his constituents calm—he pleaded with them to “keep an open mind.”

Savino and Hamilton both attended the meeting in solidarity with Peralta–and Hamilton reportedly ducked-out of the meeting early.

When Hamilton was asked questions by DNAinfo New York about the backlash—He called it “disingenuous” and “strange.” DNAinfo also reported that he is suggesting that some of the protesters may have been “Put up to it” by someone else.

In addition to protests, a petition on Change.org has been created by a Jackson Heights resident, to put more pressure on Peralta. The petition demands Peralta’s return to the Democratic conference or to resign. As of Feb. 20, the petition has gathered more than 1,000 supporters.

Spokespeople for the IDC and Peralta did not return requests for comment.

While most pay their state lawmakers little-to-no mind—Murphy says the extremism of President Trump’s right-wing policy has sparked outrage amongst progressive New Yorkers.

“It’s going to affect all of them, they voted for Democrats because they wanted progressive change. After the election of Trump, people are aware, people are more engaged, people are worried.”  

Additional reporting by David Howard King

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