The co-leader of the state Senate, Jeff Klein, will face a primary challenge this September from former City Councilman and one-time state Attorney General Oliver Koppell in what is expected to be one of the most closely watched races in the state. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
After weeks of speculation about his political future, Oliver Koppell made it official. He will mount a Democratic primary challenge against state Senator Jeff Klein.
"I'm going to take on Senator Klein to replace him because he has made an alliance with the Republicans," Koppell said. "He's a traitor to the Democratic Party and, more importantly, he's a traitor to the very progressive principles that he pretends to espouse."
Democrats make up a majority of the state Senate, but because the faction known as the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, which is led by Klein, can't get along with the mainline Democrats, Klein and his four members have formed an alliance with Republicans for control of the state Senate. That gives Republican leader Dean Skelos veto power over all legislation, despite Republicans being in the minority.
As a result, Koppell and other Democrats argue that their party's priorities often fall by the wayside.
"The minimum wage today would be $9 an hour if the Democrats were in control in the Senate, and it would be going to $10. Instead, it's at $8," Koppell said. "That is an impact on every poor person. Hundreds of thousands of poor people."
Klein pointed to a raise in the minimum wage voted on last year as one of his big accomplishments as co-leader, since Skelos didn't want it at all.
In statement about the primary, a Klein spokesperson said, "Senator Jeff Klein looks forward to a spirited debate of ideas and is eager to address his record of legislative accomplishments and his vision for the people of his district and for the future of this state."
Democrats are also looking to mount primary challenges against other IDC members, including Tony Avella of Queens, who recently switched sides.
Despite the split in the party, Klein plans to attend to the party's state convention on Long Island later this month.
"I don't know if the IDC feels they should be part of the broader Democratic convention, but we, certainly, would love to see Democratic unity and success in November," said Andrea Stewart-Cousins, leader of the state Senate's Democratic Conference.
The Wall Street journal is reporting that Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he wants to see at least one piece of progressive legislation pass the state Senate before the end of the legislative session. There are still roughly six weeks left, so whatever does or doesn't happen could make a huge impact in the Klein-Koppell primary.