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Breakaway Democrats decide to stick with GOP in New York State Senate

ALBANY – A group of breakaway Democrats will stick with Republicans who control the state Senate, continuing a coalition that has helped to keep the GOP in charge of the 63-member chamber despite their showing in the November elections.

The Independent Democratic Conference said Monday that its seven members will join with the GOP to form a majority coalition because “we know how important it is to engage and get things done,’’ said Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat and head of the group.

Six lawmakers from downstate and one from upstate make up the group.

There was little surprise Klein’s group would remain with the Republicans headed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, especially given the testy relations it has with some members of the mainline group of Democrats who are now set to serve at least another two years in the Senate minority.

The breakaway Democrats first formed the Independent Democratic Conference in 2011 after Democrats lost control of the Senate following a brief, two-year takeover. The group has provided the cushion for the GOP to remain in power. By the numbers, there are 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans. But Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, since November has said he will again conference with the Republicans, giving them the 32 votes needed to pass legislation. With Klein’s seven members, the GOP now has a comfortable margin if their ranks should dwindle before the next election due to retirement or other reason.

“New Yorkers want Democrats and Republicans to work together to get results, and that’s exactly what we’ve done over the last six years in partnership with Sen. Klein and members of the Independent Democratic Conference,’’ Flanagan said.

“There’s too much at stake for the IDC to sit on the sidelines,’’ Klein added in his written statement.

Members of the mainline Senate Democrats – which from Western New York include Sen. Timothy Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat – have sought to put pressure on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the state government’s top Democrat, to bring the breakaway Democrats back into the Senate Democratic fold. But Cuomo, who supported some Democrats in the fall election, has been served well during his six years in office by the alliance between the GOP and the breakaway group.

Mike Murphy, a Senate Democratic Conference spokesman, said Democrats should be united at a time when Congress and the White House is a couple weeks away from all-GOP control.

"It's disappointing that once again Democrats have won a majority yet don't have an opportunity to govern. ... Democrats must remain true to their value,'' he said.

But Bill Lipton, director of the New York Working Families Party, which has sought to oust Republicans from Senate power, placed some of the blame on Cuomo for Democrats not uniting in the Senate. Such unity by Democrats is needed, the small but influential minor party claims, because of the looming White House takeover by Republicans and President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Lipton said the Independent Democratic Conference members “will be utterly discredited in their districts if they prop up a Republican majority that is unwilling to block Trump and instead will seek to further his agenda in New York.’’

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