MoveOn Endorses Progressive Challengers to Former Breakaway Democrats in NY

In a first in New York, the national progressive group endorsed in state legislative races, backing four challengers to members of the now-defunct IDC.

MoveOn Endorses Progressive Challengers to Former Breakaway Democrats in NY
The New York State Senate debates legislation in the Senate chamber on June 16, 2011 in Albany, New York.

MoveOn, a national progressive advocacy group, has endorsed four New York State Senate candidates levying primary challenges against Democrats who previously belonged to a breakaway group that aligned with Republicans to control the upper chamber.

MoveOn issued endorsements to Alessandra Biaggi, who is running against State Sen. Jeff Klein, the former leader of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference (IDC)—an eight-member group of Democratic senators that aligned with Republicans to give the GOP a narrow majority—as well as former New York City Councilman Robert Jackson, Zellnor Myrie and Jessica Ramos.

“We get excited every four years when there’s a presidential election, but our movement traditionally hasn’t excelled at paying attention to hugely consequential elections further down the ballot.” said Lisa Changadveja, MoveOn’s director of state and local elections. “There’s a lot at stake on the ballot in New York, and we need leaders who will actually fight for progressive values, instead of enabling a reactionary opposition. That’s why we’re taking the historic step of endorsing these four incredible leaders, as part of a broader effort to build a progressive bench across the country. We need a State Senate that works for everyone—not just the wealthy and well-connected.”

The IDC announced in April that it would be returning to the Democratic fold and dissolving their Republican-aligned faction in an effort to win a numerical majority in the Senate. The IDC’s partnership with the Republicans ensured that they were part of New York’s budgetary discussions and that the Senate pursued several progressive priorities, like an increase in the minimum wage, access to medical marijuana and paid family leave.

While Democrats have had a numerical majority in the 63-seat Senate at times, bad blood between the mainline Democrats and the IDC—as well as a senator from Brooklyn who was elected as a Democrat but caucuses with the Republicans—have made it so Republicans maintain control of the upper chamber, setting the agenda for legislation and having considerable influence over New York’s $168.3 billion spending plan.  

Critics of the IDC have argued that if it wasn’t for the breakaway group aligning with Republicans, Democrats could have had control of the State Senate and passed robust progressive legislation, such as campaign finance reforms, codifying Roe v. Wade into state law and state tuition assistance for undocumented, college-bound students.

While Democrats control the state Assembly and the Executive chamber, keeping Republicans in control of the Senate has also acted as a fail-safe for centrist Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo by keeping progressive measures at bay or implementing them at a slower pace.

While MoveOn has been active since 1998, this is the organization’s first endorsement in New York legislative races, according to a spokesman. The progressive organization endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in mid-June in what was seen as a long-shot campaign to unseat Rep. Joe Crowley, the heir apparent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Ocasio-Cortez’ stunning defeat over Crowley kicked off a grassroots progressive wave in New York and has since been hailed as a harbinger of the progressive movement this election cycle.

While the IDC had existed for seven years with little fanfare outside of the state Capitol in Albany, the emergence of a so-called “Blue Wave” this election cycle made the breakaway faction of Democrats targets for the left.  

Since the districts MoveOn endorsed candidates in are so heavily Democratic, whoever wins next week’s primary is almost guaranteed to win in the general election.

More than 5,700 MoveOn members from within the 34th Senate district, which includes parts of the Bronx and Riverdale, voted to have the national organization endorse Biaggi’s bid for the senate.

In the 31st Senate district, more than 10,900 members voted to endorse Jackson, who lost to State Sen. Marisol Alcantara in 2016 by 533 votes in a crowded four-way Democratic primary. Democrats have pointed to this seat as one of the most vulnerable for the former IDC.

MoveOn also endorsed Zellnor, who is challenging State Sen. Jesse Hamilton. Hamilton was first elected to the Senate in 2014. Despite financial assistance from the IDC, Hamilton joined the mainline Democrats in the State Senate but deflected to the breakaway faction in November 2016, arguing that the IDC has helped deliver on progressive priorities, such as an increase in the minimum wage and paid family leave.  

The group also endorsed Ramos, State Sen. Jose Peralta’s primary challenger. Peralta, who represents parts of Queens, was the most recent deflection to the IDC, joining the conference in late January 2017.

In a statement at the time, Peralta said he was joining the IDC because it was where he could “best affect progressive change” on several policy issues.

A spokeswoman for the former members of the IDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.