Two state Senators fling personal accusations during session - The Buffalo News

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Two state Senators fling personal accusations during session

ALBANY – One Democrat blasting other Democrats for lining up with "Trump Republicans" can set off a firestorm.

The ever-simmering venom between two dueling groups of Democrats in the state Senate played out in public Wednesday in a series of stinging verbal assaults during debate over an otherwise symbolic, non-binding budget resolution.

During one heated moment, Sen. Marisol Alcantara, a Manhattan Democrat who sits with a breakaway conference that has a power alliance with Republicans, called another senator from Queens "a white man with a degree from Harvard.’’

What's more, Alcantara said, Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens has “white privilege.

What set Alcantara off?

Gianaris had described Alcantara and her seven fellow members of the Independent Democratic Conference as -- in quoting a New York Daily News editorial -- “Trump Democrats” for keeping an alliance with Senate Republicans. Democrats have a majority in the Senate, but eight members are in the independent caucus, and another Democrat refuses to participate with the mainline Democratic conference.

Those breakaway Democrats share power with the 31 Republicans in the 63-member Senate.

Tensions already were high when the GOP and IDC rebuffed the mainline Democrats in a bid to bring their own budget resolution to a floor vote. Both houses on Wednesday passed resolutions – which have no force of law – staking out their priorities for the state budget, which is due to be passed by March 31.

Gianaris, who led the mainline Democrats’ attack against budget plans that the IDC and Senate GOP presented Wednesday, noted after Alcantara’s remarks that his family immigrated from Greece and that his father’s home was burned by Nazis.

Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat who heads the IDC, called Alcantara, “very passionate.’’

“I think she was set off by someone who was playing politics on the floor of the Senate, was name calling instead of debating ideas, and I think she responded in kind,’’ Klein said.

Alcantara, who was born in the Dominican Republic, was arrested protesting outside Trump Tower in Manhattan on President Trump's inauguration day in January.

“These accusations of racism and impugning people’s motives, all of those things have no place, frankly, in the discussions,’’ said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an African-American woman.

Of the IDC, she said, “they don’t want to hear that they are empowering Trump Republicans.’’

Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat who heads the mainline Democratic conference, called the incident a “low point” for the Senate.

Gianaris, on Wednesday evening, said his questioning of the Democratic loyalties of the IDC's members may have been a political criticism.

"That's not a personal attack,'' he said of the concerns he raised on the floor about the group's ties to the GOP.

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