By Jeffery C. Mays
March 29, 2018
Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, will become the first citywide official to back primary challengers to members of the Independent Democratic Conference.
Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times
A campaign to unseat eight state Democratic senators — members of a renegade group that has helped empower Republicans to rule the Senate in Albany — will receive a significant boost from the city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer.
Mr. Stringer on Thursday will endorse two Democratic challengers trying to topple members of the group, the Independent Democratic Conference, in the September primary.
“When you run for office as a Democrat and caucus with the Republicans, you are not acting like a Democrat.” Mr. Stringer, a Democrat, said in an interview. “This has gone on for too long. I want to break the dam.”
The cooperation of the eight-member body has helped allow Senate Republicans to control the chamber even though they are outnumbered by Democrats.
Mr. Stringer will endorse Robert Jackson, who is challenging Marisol Alcantara in Manhattan, and Jessica Ramos, who is challenging Jose R. Peralta in Queens.
Although the I.D.C. was created in 2011, its existence — largely tolerated or ignored by many Democrats in New York — has now become a hot-button issue.
The Working Families Party and the True Blue Grassroots Coalition, composed of over 60 groups, have endorsed a slate of Democrats trying to oust I.D.C. members. Ms. Ramos was also recently endorsed by Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer and Costa Constantinides, both of Queens.
Mr. Stringer’s endorsements will be looked upon favorably, said Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change.
“We will remember where people have been at on these big fights,” Mr. Westin said.
Mr. Stringer’s endorsement obviously adds credibility to Ms. Ramos’ and Mr. Jackson’s candidacies and will help with fund-raising, said Christina M. Greer, a political-science professor who is a McSilver Institute Fellow at New York University, but it will also yield benefits for Mr. Stringer, a leading 2021 mayoral candidate.
“The 2021 election will be here before we know it and this is a way that Scott Stringer shores up some loyalty,” Professor Greer said. “These candidates have their own bases in these communities, and the next mayoral race is going to be quite competitive and crowded.”
Along with Mr. Stringer, the city’s public advocate, Letitia James; Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president; and Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president, are just a few of the well-known Democrats expected to run for mayor. The endorsement allows Mr. Stringer to position himself as a progressive Democrat.
“I’m hoping that I’ll have all of them eventually,” Mr. Jackson said of endorsements from potential Democratic mayoral contenders, “but the first is very important. When you are first you take the lead.”
Ms. Ramos said Mr. Stringer’s endorsement “shows a great deal of courage that we are hoping to see with many other elected officials.”
Mainline Democrats have argued that the Republican arrangement with the I.D.C. dooms progressive initiatives such as bail reform, stronger rent laws, abortion rights, single-payer health care and ethics reform. Another Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, is not a member of the I.D.C. but caucuses with Republicans.
“We have no safeguard against the regressive policies coming from the federal government, that’s why we need a Democratically controlled State Senate,” said Lisa DellAquila, co-executive director of True Blue NY. “This is a state with a majority Democrats.”
In a statement, Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County and leads the I.D.C., criticized Mr. Stringer’s endorsement as “petty politicking.”
Mr. Klein said that “members of Independent Democratic Conference are fighting for New Yorkers by doing real legislative work and shaping budget policies to address the immense challenges facing the people of New York City,” citing issues such as public housing and subway repairs.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said the focus now should be on fighting federal policies that hurt the city and state. He said the I.D.C. should return to the mainline Democratic fold, but that it was an issue best left until after the election.
“I prefer not to waste a lot of money in primary fights with what we are looking at from D.C.,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “It’s childish infighting. If Democrats can’t at this point put their differences aside when there is a big picture threat, then shame on all of them.”
Mr. Stringer, a former Manhattan borough president and state assemblyman, compared his early endorsement to the time he was an early proponent of ending so-called empty-seat voting in the Assembly, which allowed elected officials to sign in and be counted as a yes vote on legislation even if they were not present, unless they indicated otherwise.
“So much of what happens in New York City is determined by what happens in Albany,” Mr. Stringer said. “This is a moment where if you have the opportunity to shake it up you’ve got to be willing to do it.”
Others saw more gain than risk in Mr. Stringer’s early endorsement. Even if the candidates that he endorses lose, Mr. Stringer could characterize his decision as a fight against President Trump and the Republican Congress.
“He can always say I’m one of the people who stepped up in the moment of Trump,” Professor Greer said, “to take the plunge so we could change course in Albany.”