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Independent Senate Democrats to join forces with Cuomo in November

ALBANY – State Senate co-leader Jeff Klein on Wednesday said the two-year experiment in which he and a handful of other renegade Democrats have been sharing power with Republicans will come to an end.

Klein, in a joint statement with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said Wednesday evening he and his Independent Democratic Conference will “work together” with the mainline group of Democrats to form a new coalition-style governance structure that will oust the Republicans from their partial control of the Senate.

The announcement could have sweeping policy and fiscal implications for the state, especially upstate, if New York formally goes to an all Democratic-led government.

Cuomo, who has spent the past three days at public events boasting of his bipartisan working relationship with Senate Republicans, including at a gathering Tuesday in Buffalo, praised the move by Klein, a Bronx Democrat.

“I applaud the IDC’s decision,” Cuomo said in a written statement.

In earning the recent endorsement of the liberal Working Families Party, Cuomo said he would push to put Democrats back in power in the Senate. Since then, though, he has alternated between criticizing Senate Republicans for not backing some of his policy proposals – such as a taxpayer-funded campaign finance system – and asking them to join him at events all this week where he talked of his ability to work in Albany with Democrats and Republicans.

Of the IDC’s saying it will end its relations with the Senate Republicans, Cuomo said, “There are progressive goals that we have yet to achieve and that we must accomplish next January.’’

That the deal is not taking effect now and is waiting until after the November elections can mean any assortment of possibilities, including that Wednesday’s announcement by Klein and Cuomo could take on a different shape, depending who gets re-elected this fall.

Klein has to get by a looming primary challenge by Oliver Koppell, a former state attorney general, who just a half-hour before the Klein-Cuomo deal was announced said he was going to be appearing outside Klein’s Bronx Senate office to describe what he called the senator’s “turncoat” ways.

If the Republicans are ousted, it will severely cut the representation in the power circles of Albany for upstate regions of the state. Western New York, for instance, has five Republican senators in power now; if the current officeholders are returned and the Democrats regain control, it would reduce the region’s political oomph at the Capitol to a sole member of the majority: Buffalo Democrat Tim Kennedy.

Klein said his IDC group has served as a “strong, stabilizing, sensible force” since it was formed four years ago, helping during the last two years while sharing power with Republicans to push through everything from the SAFE Act gun control law to legalizing marriage rights for gays. But he said that “core Democratic policy initiatives” of the IDC have gone unrealized and that he will not only form a new coalition with other Democrats but work to get as many Democrats elected as possible to the Senate this fall.

In an interview, Klein said the arrangement with Cuomo calls for his IDC group to “live on” and that he sees a co-leadership deal happening between himself and Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester County. He said he’s been “very proud” of the work he and Senate Republicans accomplished the past two years but that he saw some of his major goals – like legislation to expand abortion rights and permit children of illegal immigrants get state aid for college – not ever having any chance with the GOP.

Klein said he talked with Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, on Wednesday; he said he respects Skelos but that they’ve just “disagreed strongly’’ on some issues the IDC wants passed.

The power-sharing deal involving Klein and his four fellow Democrats with Republicans has, with some notable bumps, generally worked to all of their political advantages. But with the state’s demographics making New York an ever-more-blue state, it was inevitable that Klein would, at some point, have to abandon the deal he made with Republicans.

On Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, introduced Cuomo at a Buffalo event in which the governor talked of his ability to work in a bipartisan fashion. As it turns out, Cuomo was already heavily involved behind the scenes in trying to oust the Republicans from power in the Senate.

“You don’t know what to make of each statement from day to day when seemingly the statements from day to day are different,’’ Gallivan said Wednesday after Cuomo and Klein announced the deal. He said if Democrats take over the Senate it “will not be good for the governor or the citizens;’’ he said that in the two-year period in 2009 and 2010 when Democrats ran the Senate, the state encountered numerous policy, fiscal and political disasters.

Gallivan said the Wednesday deal places “much higher stakes’’ on the November elections in Senate races and that any tentative deals made now about who is going to run the Senate come January are premature. “We still have elections,’’ he said.

Having Democrats retake the Senate would make for an all-downstate power structure in the Legislature. Klein, though, insisted the IDC has shown it can offer “stability’’ and that his group backed Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion plan and the tax-free zones that he says are going to primarily benefit upstate.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino declined comment.

But Zephyr Teachout, who is trying to run in a Democratic primary against Cuomo, was taking some credit for Cuomo’s push for the IDC to break from the Republicans.

“The agreement shows that pressure, such as the challenge of my campaign, is the way to move Gov. Cuomo to embrace core Democratic values,” she said.

Within minutes of the release of the Klein and Cuomo statement, several downstate-dominated unions put out their own releases praising the move.

For the past three days, Cuomo has appeared at public events with six Republicans, including Gallivan, at events in Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton and Long Island. In Binghamton on Monday, he hugged Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous, a Republican, after Libous introduced him with glowing praise.