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Avella will join Dems in independent caucus

State Sen. Tony Avella is breaking ranks with Albany's Democratic leadership to join the Independent Democratic Conference.
TimesLedger Newspapers

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he thinks he will fit right in with the upper chamber’s Independent Democratic Conference even if there are a few kinks to be worked out with the leadership of his new caucus.

The two-term senator and former city councilman announced Wednesday he was breaking ranks with Albany’s Democratic leadership to join the IDC, a rogue group of lawmakers who denied their party a majority when they entered into a power-sharing agreement with Republicans following the 2012 elections.

“It’s something that’s been on my mind a while, something that’s been suggested to me by people involved in good government groups,” he said. “I’ve always been an independent guy, going back to when I was on the City Council.”

Avella, who has rightly earned his reputation as an iconoclast for refusing to play nice with the political establishment, said he had been watching the IDC closely ever since Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) led five lawmakers, including Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), in revolt against the Democratic leadership at the State House.

He said that for the most part he sees eye-to-eye with Klein and his progressive initiatives, although when it comes to issues such as the IDC chairman’s support of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-kindergarten plan, there are some differences.

Whereas Klein and de Blasio support raising taxes on city residents earning more than $500,000 a year to fund pre-K, Avella said he would prefer a “true millionaires tax” on those earning $1 million or more like the one he advocated for more than two years ago.

“It’s not like we’re that far apart on the issue itself,” he explained. “At the end of the day it’s all about making compromises.”

The jury is still out on just how much can be done by the IDC, which set out to bring a progressive agenda to Albany and break through the state Legislature’s gridlock.

The rogue conference helped pass the state’s gun reforms in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting and raise the minimum wage to $8 an hour, but Albany fell short on other progressive projects such as the Dream Act and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s women’s equality agenda.

Klein said he looked forward to working with Avella on issues such as lifting up working-class families.

“The breadth of his experience, in both the City Council and the Senate, makes him the type of seasoned legislator who knows how to get things done,” Klein said. “I am very pleased to welcome him to the team.”

The IDC has been down to four members ever since April, when the conference booted Smith after he was arrested on corruption charges.

The Democrats will try to regain control of the Senate later this year, but Avella said they had slim chances even before he defected.

“Anybody who realistically looks at the situation in terms of the Democratic conference can see they would still have to win a lot of seats,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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