“A Rejection of Electoral Chicanery”

(© Moon Baby Photo)

By Matthew Mallary

Alessandra Biaggi’s victory in the New York State Senate race was key for the new progressive movement in New York and is emblematic of the progressive wave across the country. Biaggi did not just run a left-leaning campaign, she swung to the far left in order to emphasize her opponents work for the opposition party. “Her platform is the future of Democratic politics, not just locally but nationally,” said Dean Alston, 19, a volunteer for Alessandra Biaggi. “The last two years have been so hard for Democrats, but winning here in the Bronx, that felt good.”

Biaggi, a lawyer from Pelham in the Bronx, defeated long-term representative Jeff Klein in the New York State Senate Democratic Primary on November 6th, 2018. This came after a grueling campaign where Klein reportedly spent between $2.4-$3 million on the race, according to multiple reports. This was a major victory for New York Progressives, as well as anyone who felt betrayed by Klein’s founding of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a caucus of Democrats who split with their party and gifted control of the State Senate to the Republicans.

Outspent on a massive scale by Klein, Biaggi’s combination of grassroots support and progressive values, nonetheless carried her to the victory. Biaggi won 54.4 percent of the primary votes that were cast, according to non-profit Ballotpedia. Klein was accustomed to beating his opponents by wide margins. He defeated his last primary challenger by a difference of 29.6 percent.

Biaggi was born in Mount Vernon and raised in the Bronx, in the same district that she ran and won. She ran on a progressive platform which emphasized climate change, early voting, but most of all, ousting the “fake Democrats” in the IDC. Biaggi aligned herself with other progressives who were attempting to primary other members of the IDC.

Biaggi worked for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign as deputy national operations director. Many liberals saw her as their champion. Gloria Powell, 55, a resident of Riverdale, canvassed for Biaggi. “Alessandra is the new face we need in Albany,” said Powell. “We needed a progressive voice to fight for us.”

(Biaggi campaign)

Biaggi was able to convince long-time Jeff Klein supporters to flip and change their votes. What she lacked in funding, she made up for in campaigning. She pushed the IDC story for the entire election cycle and it became the deciding factor for many of the voters who were on the fence. Judging by the amount that Klein spent on this race, he did not underestimate the challenge that Biaggi was mounting. In his public statements, Klein appeared to believe the support of establishment Democrats in Albany would be enough to secure his reelection. However, Biaggi’s campaign appeared to be very effective at turning out the vote. In Jeff Klein’s last primary in 2014, only 14,219 people voted. This number more than doubled in the most recent election to 32,372.

Jeff Klein represented the 34th State Senate district in the Bronx for 15 years. At a news conference in 2011, Klein and three other state senators announced that they would sever their ties to the Democratic leadership in the New York State Senate and begin their own caucus. The Independent Democratic Conference was Klein’s brainchild and he used it to weaken the Democratic caucus in Albany. Even when Democrats took a majority in the Senate, the IDC remained independent, which prevented the Democrats from electing their own majority leader in Albany. Instead Klein and Senator Dean G. Skelos took a shared position.

At its peak, the IDC had eight members, which crippled the Democrats even more. To many members of the 34th State Senate district, Klein’s IDC was responsible for the enabling of a Republican agenda in the capital. On April 4, the IDC announced that the coalition was going to be dissolved at the behest of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who wanted to unify the Democratic Party before his primary election against Cynthia Nixon.

Almost all the members of the former IDC were ousted from the state Senate, suggesting that New Yorkers were fed up with the senators. My mother, a longtime resident of Riverdale, was more energized by Alessandra Biaggi’s campaign than any previous local election.  It was the first time she voted in a midterm, let alone a primary for a midterm. “Jeff Klein and his compatriots in the IDC cynically manipulate the Democratic majority of his district to run on the Democratic ticket while caucusing with Albany Republicans and voting against the interest of his constituents,” she said. “Voting for Biaggi was my way of putting an exclamation point on my district’s rejection of this form of electoral chicanery.”





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