By Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- Five Democratic senators who broke away to form their own caucus will partner with Senate Republicans to run the state Legislature's upper chamber, the two conferences announced Tuesday.
Under an agreement unveiled Tuesday afternoon, the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference will be recognized as a permanent third conference in the Senate, sharing power with Republicans over which bills are put to a vote, state budget negotiations and various appointments and leadership positions.
Both Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, and Sen. Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, will lead their respective groups, but will alternate the title of temporary Senate president every two weeks.
"Senator Klein has proven to be a thoughtful and effective leader, and I look forward to partnering with him to move this state forward," Skelos, the current majority leader, said in a statement.
Republicans currently hold a slim majority in the chamber, but Democrats made major gains on Election Day to have a chance at regaining control of the Senate. But one Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, quickly announced his plans to caucus with the GOP, though Republicans were still one seat shy of controlling the 63-member Senate prior to Tuesday's announcement.
Klein, who partnered with Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County, and two others to first form the Independent Democratic Conference early last year, had been in negotiations with Republicans over the past few weeks.
"Having dedicated the past two years to a serious, policy-driven agenda, this agreement delivers on the IDC's pledge to become a permanent third conference within the State Senate and to have a major voice in all policy decisions moving forward," Klein said in a statement.
Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, joined the caucus of renegade Democrats on Tuesday.
"Senator Malcolm Smith is joining as part of the Independent Democratic Conference to create a coalition, bi-partisan government that will get things done in Albany for people of the state," Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic strategist serving as Smith's spokesman, said prior to the announcement.
Earlier Tuesday, a spokesman for Senate Democrats said anyone elected on the Democratic line owes it to their constituents to sit with the main party conference.
"Those elected as Democrats should respect voters' clearly expressed intent and sit with the Democratic Conference to implement important progressive goals like standing up for women's health, passing real campaign finance reform, raising the minimum wage and enacting common sense gun laws," said Mike Murphy, the spokesman. "Anything less would be a disservice to the people of our state."