Senate Dems still back IDC challenges, for now

Koppell. (Office of the Mayor of New York)
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ALBANY—They announced a deal to make a deal, but they're not disarming yet.

Leaders of both Democratic conferences in the State Senate—its mainstream Democrats and the five-member Independent Democratic Conference—refused to call for an end to a half-dozen primary challenges to incumbent senators that were put in motion in recent months as the rival factions geared up for electoral war.

While most of the challenges are expected to fizzle in the next few weeks, the lack of an immediate armistice is an indication of lingering tension and distrust between Senator Jeff Klein, who leads the I.D.C., and Senate Democratic Conference leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. 

“I don't have any message for any of the primary challengers,” Stewart-Cousins told Capital. “These are personal decisions that are being made, I'm sure, by the individuals involved in a case-by-case basis. People will do what they feel is right for them. I'm just happy, quite honestly, that we have concluded what is right for the people of New York State is to allow them to actually have the leadership that they've called for.”

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Klein, speaking first on “The Capitol Pressroom” and later in an interview with Capital, said he was not ready to rule out primaries. The I.D.C. is said to be supporting Betty Jean Grant's challenge to Buffalo Senator Tim Kennedy as well as New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera's run against Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx.

“We'll see what happens,” Klein said on the radio. “We are going to have a litmus test … if we get involved in Democratic primaries.”

It seems he's waiting for Democrats to withdraw their support for challengers to him and his colleagues, which sources said was a condition of the deal he struck with Democrats on Wednesday to re-ally in November.

Insurgents targeting Senator David Carlucci, an Independent Democrat from Rockland County and Senator David Valesky of Syracuse are in the early stages of their candidacies, and have until July 10 to submit—or not—petitions necessary to force a primary.

"It looks as though there won't be [a challenge], but I'm not going to say anything final at this point," said Syracuse Common Council member Jean Kessner, Valesky's potential challenger. "I've still got to work through some stuff.

"This isn't personal," she said. "This is about core Democratic values like women's equality, comprehensive campaign reform, minimum wage that actually would help somebody, about things like the Dream Act and GENDA. There are a number of things that have simply not come to a vote because the Republicans have been in charge of the Senate."

Former New York City councilman Oliver Koppell, though, told Capital earlier Thursday that he was going ahead with his challenge against Klein, and insisted he had not seen an erosion of support since Klein and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the I.D.C. would end its current alliance with Republicans after the November elections.

A source involved with Democrats and their labor-backed allies, who pushed Klein to the table by getting Cuomo to threaten him at the Working Families Party convention last month, predicted Kessner, Koppell and Clarkstown councilwoman Stephanie Hausner would all back down, eventually. Major unions had threatened or denounced Klein, but never committed their support to his opponent. The source suggested a formal retreat would be linked to Klein walking away from Grant and Cabrera.

Regardless, it's thought John Liu, the former New York City comptroller, will also continue his run against Senator Tony Avella. Queens Democratic Party officials argued at the Democratic state convention last month that Avella was a traitor, and a primary was the only appropriate measure.

“I don't know that [Queens Democratic Chairman] Joe Crowley cares about the I.D.C.,” said another source familiar with the primaries. “It's more that Tony turned his back on the county organization.”