'I am extremely disappointed in my friend Simcha Felder'
When Simcha Felder defeated Republican state senator David Storobin, Democrats cheered. They were one seat closer to retaking the majority in the upper house of the state legislature, which slipped out of their hands nearly as soon as they won it back in 2008.
So, when Felder announced yesterday he was caucusing with Republicans, it stung. Particularly for Councilman Lew Fidler, who lost an earlier state senate race to Storobin, and had gotten to know Felder personally during their time on the City Council.
"Obviously, I am extremely disappointed in my friend Simcha Felder," Fidler said in a statement to me.
"I always took him at his word and his word this time was that he would caucus with the party that could deliver the most for his district.
"So I am curious. Two days ago he reiterated that promise. What happened in 48 hours? Who promised him what? Better, who promised him something they could actually deliver? If the Senate Republicans can't reverse the numbers, they will be in the minority and can't promise his district pencils. The governor? I really doubt that.
"I think Simcha owes everyone an explanation lest we all will suspect more strongly that he was in the bag all along. And that would be the first time he lied to me."
In a subsequent statement, Felder explained his decision.
“I respectfully disagree with my friend," Felder said, through a spokesman, Kalman Yeger (who, earlier, worked on Fidler's campaign). "I have always said that where I caucus will be a decision I make based on the needs and best interests of the people who elected me.
"I know the Senate Majority is committed to bringing economic and tax relief to the communities I represent. I know they have compassion for the poor and respect for the middle class. The Senate Majority will partner with me in improving public education and easing the burden on tuition-paying parents. I look forward to working with them to accomplish our legislative agenda and making New York a better state.”
Felder's explanation for aligning with Republicans has gotten more detailed. Before the election, he said he would side with the caucus that could best "deliver" for his constituents, indicating he would wait and see who was in the majority, and side with that party. Yesterday's announcement was unexpected, since paper ballots in one race are still being counted and the four-member Independent Democratic Conference has not publicly announced which party will get their decisive bloc of votes.
But not everyone was surprised by Felder's decision.
"I wrote the story on April 21," said Yossi Gestetner.
Gestetner was briefly employed by the state Republican Party, and is a freelance reporter and communication consultant.
The item he was referring to, on his blog, is headlined, "EXCLUSIVE: Republican Leader Skelos to Back Democrat Felder in Super Jewish District." Citing unnamed sources, the item actually says Skelos was convinced Felder had a better chance of winning the seat than Storobin. "Whether Mr. Skelos will back Felder publicly or just behind the scenes remains to be seen," Gestetner wrote.
Skelos was featured in Storobin ads, but did not commit the same type of financial support to Storobin that he did with Eric Ulrich, a non-incumbent running against Democratic state senator Joseph Addabbo in Queens.
Gestetner said the reason for Skelos, in effect, not protecting Storobin was simple math.
"At the end of the day, he needs to make sure he has as many seats as possible while spending as least money as possible," Gestetner said. "If he backed Storobin, he might have lost the seat after spending a lot of money."