11:50 am Nov. 15, 2012
State senator-elect Simcha Felder's decision to caucus with Republicans, after running as a Democrat, is prompting the his party's county leader to seek a way to expel him.
Felder's decision will quite possibly enable the Republicans to hang onto their narrow majority in the 63-member Senate, despite apparently having lost three seats in the election.
Before the election, Felder had said he's caucus with whichever party was in the majority, and this able to deliver the most for his district.
Felder's former boss, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, is a Democrat with a history of supporting and identifying with Republicans in elections for other offices, said this morning that if his party has a problem with Felder, it ought to have a problem with him too.
One pretty obvious thing this proposition ignores, though: Hikind, for all his apostacies, has never actually caucused with the other party.
Hikind defended Felder's decision to me, saying that doing what Felder has done "doesn't mean you're throwing a knife in the Democratic Party. He doesn't want to do that."
Hikind, comfortably situated with the unassailable majority in his own chamber, effusively praised Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver ("sensitive," "remarkable," "incredible") and said "I would never dream of not being a Democrat."
He disagreed with the idea that caucusing with the opposing party (and in Felder's case likely denying his own party the ability to form a majority) is substantively different than crossing party lines to endorse a candidate for mayor, governor or president.
"If you're going to do it for caucusing, why not do it for other things?" Hikind asked.
Referring to the 2009 New York City mayoral race, Hikind said Democratic nominee Bill Thompson "could have been the mayor if Democrats did not support Bloomberg."
"By the way, Azi, some of them openly, some of them you don't know about, were playing that game with the administration," Hikind said. "I'm just trying to be consistent. You could have had a Democratic mayor for the last four years."
Hikind also said it was unfair to expel Felder and not the four members of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, state senators Jeff Klein of the Bronx, Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Carluccui of the Hudson Valley and David Valesky of Syracuse, who, crucially, have yet to say which party they're going to join in the Senate.
"You have four Democrats who have been doing precisely that for two years," Hikind said, adding, "The hypocrisy of all this really annoys me."
That's not entirely accurate. The four members of the IDC did not commit themselves to a Democratic or a Republican Senate. In 2011, the four IDC members did not vote for anyone as leader of the state snate. And earlier, unlike now, those leadership votes were academic, since the Republicans had enough members to form a majority on their own.
UPDATE: City Councilman Lew Fidler challenged Fedler to explain his actions.
Yesterday, I expressed my disappointment in my friend and former colleague Simcha Felder’s decision to caucus with Republicans and asked for an explanation. Through a spokesman, Simcha issued a statement which on its face lacks any substantive credibility.
Throughout the campaign, Simcha had assured the voters---and me personally---that he would sit with whichever party delivered the most for his district. Transactional for sure, but apparently honest. I took him at his word as did most voters.
Simcha’s explanation yesterday was a subtle yet wholly significant explanation from what he had promised. It waxed poetic about philosophies and abounded with some nonsense about the Republicans in the Senate being compassionate towards the poor and for the middle class.
That begs the question: When did Simcha Felder come to understand the philosophies of the political parties? What changed about the philosophies of the parties since the election that Simcha was not aware of before the election? If he knew, the philosophies of the parties before the election, why did he not state publicly that he would sit with the Republicans? That is the true issue here…..was Simcha Felder being honest with the voters of the district? Since it would be hard to imagine that Simcha learned anything about party philosophy after the election, Simcha did a disservice to the voters of his Senate district. Surely, countless thousands chose him over his Republican opponent because he was the Democratic Party candidate.
Therefore, Simcha---and not his spokesman---owes an answer to those questions---and specific answers, not pabulum---to those questions.
Additionally, if Simcha chooses to revert to his transactional answer, then he needs to tell people what pieces of silver were offered and by whom. Whatever was promised is being paid for out of the public till and the public has a right to know that as well.
I applaud the statement made by my friend and County Leader Frank Seddio. To those that differ, I would suggest that there is a huge difference between endorsing candidates of other parties from time to time and running on a party’s line and then without any intervening event, indicating that the other party is more consistent with the candidate’s own philosophy and organizing the legislative body with the other side. Simcha is correct that the parties are not a religion, nor should they be. But being open and honest with the voters should be.
Simcha needs to answer those questions. If he can’t, and does not think he can philosophically be a Democrat, he ought to do the right thing and change his party enrollment. As Democrats, we are free to---and should---disagree on issues all the time. But when you believe that the other party shares your philosophy of government more than your own, then you should change parties. To thine own self, be true.
Several years ago as a member of the City Council, Simcha agreed to support a candidate for Speaker and then conveniently went to the men’s room at the time of the vote. I’d much prefer that behavior to the overt choice to mislead. Simcha and I will, I hope, continue to be friends….but he needs to answer the questions or they will haunt him from the first day he takes office.