Members of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference in the New York State Senate are finally feeling the heat for cozying up to Republicans, as heightened awareness of the fragility of progressive policy gains has New Yorkers demanding bold action from local legislators.
Days after Queens Senator Jose Peralta was confronted at a town hall by a roomful of constituents challenging him to explain his recent decision to join the IDC, which caucuses with Senate Republicans, residents of central Brooklyn are gearing up to protest two events featuring IDC member Jesse Hamilton.
Local activists have planned a protest for Thursday evening outside a Park Slope restaurant where Hamilton is due to hold a fundraiser. The following day, the group Rise & Resist has scheduled its own protest outside Hamilton's office.
Since it first formed in 2010, the IDC has been the object of enormous frustration for mainline Democrats, who have consistently argued that it has only bolstered the power of what has long been a narrow Republican majority in the Senate. The IDC, for its part, has made the vague claim that it had successfully championed a range of progressive legislation, including a $15 minimum wage and a family leave law. However, the caucus has never clearly explained what it is that it actually does—i.e., couldn't the same legislation be pushed forward with its members—now eight of them—sitting with the mainline Democrats? (A lot of the legislation, like the wage increase, which is being phased in in several areas and has a carveout for upstate, has been criticized as less progressive than made out to be.)
At a press conference Monday, Peralta, in Trumpian fashion, blamed "agitators" from outside his district and the Democratic caucus for the hostile response at the town hall. There is now a petition circulating demanding that Peralta rejoin the Democratic caucus or step down from his seat. It currently has more than 500 signatories.
Harris Doran, of Rise & Resist, challenged Peralta's claim about protesters being outsiders. "Peralta's statement about the Democratic minority party sending protestors to the town hall is false. There were a bunch of grassroots people there who have no relationship with State Democrats," he said. "Most of the people who stood at the mic and spoke said they were constituents—it's on video."
Peralta has also been tweeting furiously about his decision:
I grew up in this neighborhood. I have your interest. I am willing to move the Democratic Party under one umbrella.
— Senator Jose Peralta (@SenatorPeralta) February 4, 2017
The IDC has now gotten the Wall Street Journal and New York Times treatment, and caucus members can likely expect to face increasing pressure to rejoin mainline Democrats as the GOP—and anything associated with it—draws the fury of New Yorkers intent on confronting Trumpism.
In the coming days, critical legislation that would offer increased protections for undocumented immigrants and for women's reproductive health will be coming to the Senate. Expect the IDC to draw intense scrutiny if this legislation falls short.