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Downstate Democrat won't commit to keep conferencing with State Senate Republicans

ALBANY – State Senate Republicans came to Albany Monday to celebrate their election victories last week, but the mood was tempered by the refusal of one lawmaker to say if he – and his possibly majority-determining vote – will remain with the GOP conference.

Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who has crossed over and joined the GOP conference the past four years, said Monday he has not decided where he will call home come January when a new legislative session begins in Albany.

Depending on the outcome of two Senate races on Long Island, where paper ballots still have to be counted to declare an official winner, Felder’s vote could be crucial for the GOP to have enough seats to maintain the majority.

In an interview outside his legislative office across from the Capitol, Felder Monday afternoon said he was heading off to a meeting of Senate Republicans who came to Albany for the first time in months.

“No, I have not,’’ Felder said when asked if he’s decided whether to remain with the GOP come January or join the Democrats.

“I’m going to do whatever is best for my constituents,’’ Felder said. He likened his effort to that of Bernie Sanders, who remained in the Democratic presidential nomination race longer than Hillary Clinton backers wanted so he could extract certain party platform positions and other issues.

“If it sounds in any way devious, then if they think what Bernie Sanders did was devious, then this is devious. But I don’t think it was. I think what he did was the best for the things he believed in and my job is to get the best deal I can for my constituents,’’ Felder said.

“And the deal doesn’t mean money,’’ he said, noting he wants passage of legislation to prevent localities from imposing a tax on grocery bags, additional programs to deal with special needs services for disabled children and improvements of parks in his district.

Felder, sharply criticized by Democrats over the years for siding with the GOP, said for the moment he remains a member of the conference with Republicans. But, he added, “If for some reason there’s a compelling reason for me that I can get more for my constituents in the Democratic conference, then I’m there.’’

Felder’s indecision comes as a seven-member group of Democrats called the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, which is led by Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein, has also not stated if it will remain in an alliance deal with the GOP or cut a power-sharing arrangement with the mainline group of Senate Democrats. Depending on the IDC, Felder and the final outcome of the two Long Island contests, the partisan control of the Senate is at stake for the next two years.

In the Capitol later in the day, Felder said he believes the IDC group “owes a lot more” to the Democratic Party than he does. “It goes back to my (New York City) Council days. I was never a loyal Democrat,’’ the Brooklyn lawmaker said.

In its private meeting, the Senate GOP conference unanimously voted Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, to continue as the Republican leader. Whether he remains as majority leader, or sees his title and influence reduced to minority leader, depends, in part, on the paper vote counting that begins this week on Long Island. In one contest, the Democratic candidate is up by 32 votes before the counting of paper ballots; in the other, the Republican is up by about 2,400 votes. Republicans have expressed confidence they will retain the majority and that Felder and the IDC will join its side.

The GOP conference meeting, which included newcomer Senator-elect Chris Jacobs, a Republican from Erie County, lasted three hours and included a session to help the Republicans set budget and policy priorities for the coming session.

On Tuesday, a special panel is to report whether or not lawmakers will get a pay raise beginning in January, which would be their first hike since 1999. If the idea is rejected by the commission, there are theories floating about that lawmakers could return in December to take up the salary issue as part of a package of housing and ethics law changes.


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