November’s Blue Wave didn’t only take place on a federal level. Democrats flipped hundreds of state legislature seats, including in New York, where they took control of the Senate for the first time in a decade. Now, the activists across the state who got those politicians elected have turned their attention to holding them accountable.
Despite huge voter margins, this is only the third time over the past 50 years that Democrats have won the Senate, which they’ve controlled for a total of less than three years since World War II. But now the party has a trifecta of control over the governorship and both bodies of the state legislature. The change means progressive activists have a new opportunity to demand their representatives make good on the progressive promises that got them elected.
Outsiders unfamiliar with New York politics might be surprised to learn that the state, often painted as a Democratic stronghold, has had such a rightward lean in state politics. That’s thanks in part to the IDC, or the Independent Democratic Conference — a rogue group of Democratic senators who formed an alliance with Republicans to gain benefits for themselves and their districts.
Though the IDC formally ended in April of 2018, activists were still angered by the years of watching progressive legislation stall. The divide in the legislature had given Governor Andrew Cuomo cover for his lack of action. The governor, who calls himself a “pragmatic progressive,” is known for being averse to fiscally progressive reforms, but he used the IDC and a Republican-controlled Senate as an excuse to lower expectations.
Voting groups and community organizers channeled their frustration into two sets of political victories — they won primaries that ousted IDC-esque Democrats from their seats, and then won a second round against Republicans in November. Now, with a blue majority, activists are demanding their politicians adhere much higher standards.
“The reality is that we knew these were sort of political machinations, but there was nothing we could do about it,” Jeremy Saunders, the co-director of VOCAL-NY, says. The statewide organization is dedicated to ending the AIDS epidemic, the drug war, mass incarceration and homelessness in New York. “But now thanks to this blue wave that’s hit New York, that’s changed our political dynamics.”
The new government makeup “puts us in a new world,” says Saunders. “It’s a world where we really have the opportunity to hold our elected officials accountable to the commitments they’ve made for quite some time.”