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Despite Cuomo’s win, a slew of down-ballot progressive victories will hold his feet to the fire

Progressive insurgencies could reshape Albany for years to come.

Six progressive insurgents beat IDC members in New York Thursday night, a slew of victories that could radically reshape the legislature. CREDIT: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images
Six progressive insurgents beat IDC members in New York Thursday night, a slew of victories that could radically reshape the legislature. CREDIT: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Progressive insurgents toppled six Democratic state senators in New York’s primary elections Thursday night, decimating a group of breakaway Democrats formerly known as the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) that caucused with Republicans — and likely reshaping the state legislature for years to come.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo easily won his Democratic primary, staving off a primary challenge from actress-turned-activist Cynthia Nixon, it was a big night for progressives further down the ballot, who, should they be elected in November, will pressure Cuomo to keep many of the promises he made during his primary campaign.

Although Democrats had a nominal majority in the New York Senate, the IDC’s move to caucus with Republicans effectively handed control to the GOP. It’s a deal Cuomo reportedly helped broker, until earlier this spring, when he technically disbanded the group, one of many attempts he made to appeal to progressives during his primary election. (Notably, though, the governor was spotted attending a fundraiser for members of the group he was supposedly dissolving just days later.)

But the unity pledge did nothing to save Sens. Jeff Klein of the Bronx, Tony Avella and Jose Peralta of Queens, Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn, Marisol Alcántara of Manhattan, and David Valesky of Syracuse. Just two IDC members — Sens. Diane Savino of Staten Island and David Carlucci of Rockland County — managed to win their races Thursday night.

Now, six insurgents who aligned themselves with Nixon — Alessandra Biaggi, John Liu, Jessica Ramos, Zellnor Myrie, Robert Jackson and Rachel May — are likely to take their seats come November.

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Biaggi’s win was the most high-profile of the night, as she took down Klein, the IDC’s former leader. Klein was so spooked by the challenge that he spent more than $2 million on the race, more than Nixon spent on her gubernatorial bid. As The New York Times noted Thursday night, Biaggi spent 10 times less than Klein and still managed to knock the former leader off the board.

Klein was recently accused of forcibly kissing a staffer, an accusation for which he has faced no consequences in Albany. The IDC more broadly was also subject to some recent controversy, as the state Board of Elections ordered IDC members to return campaign money they had raised improperly.

Julia Salazar, a Democratic socialist who has attracted national attention, also won her primary Thursday night, despite a litany of controversies in the weeks leading up to the election, including accusations that she was lying about her family and religious history. She beat Sen. Martin Dilan, a conservative Democrat, though not an IDC member, in Brooklyn. She is uncontested in the general election.

The IDC’s move to caucus with Republicans has kneecapped progressive legislation for years in one of the country’s most progressive states. Thursday’s string of insurgent victories, however, means Democrats are likely to take control of the State Senate beginning next year.

Should Democrats take back control, they would have a chance to spearhead a number of progressive measures, including the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade’s protections into New York state law and which has thus far failed to pass in the chamber. With Democrats in power, the likely chair of the party supports a single-payer Medicare for All system.

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The insurgent victors will also likely act as a check on Cuomo’s primary promises. In the face of Nixon’s challenge, the governor tacked leftward — deciding suddenly that he wanted to ban plastic bags and restore voting rights to felons, announcing he was no longer opposed to legal marijuana, and vowing to expose the dangerous state of affairs at New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complexes.

Though he no longer has to fight off Nixon herself, the governor will face her allies in the legislature should he try to renege on those policies.

“New York politics changed forever tonight,” Bill Lipton, the state director of the Working Families Party, which threw its support behind the IDC challengers, said in a statement Thursday night. “The IDC is dead. The center of gravity has shifted, and Andrew Cuomo will face a radically different Albany.”