Who makes decisions in New York Politics?
For years New York has been known for “three men in a room” politics, an informal system where three men—the governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Senate Majority Leader—convene privately and make most decisions, often without even consulting other elected officials (legislatures are sometimes told how to vote on budgets they have yet to read).
Ever the progressive bastion, New York politics has grown far more inclusive in the last few years as a fourth man has been added to the room.
By breaking off from mainline Democrats and giving control of the State Senate to Republicans, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein has successfully included himself in New York State’s political leadership. Here’s a primer on the four men in the room who have an almost silly amount of control over every major decision in New York.
Governor Andrew Cuomo (D)
Since 2011, New York’s Democratic governor has been, according to most observers, the most powerful person in New York politics. A savvy and effective politician, the governor is known for using aggressive tactics to push his agenda. Beginning his career as a centrist who focused on bipartisanship, recently the governor has pushed a more progressive agenda, although cynics will argue this is a strategy to help him in the Democratic primary if he chooses to run for President. A dealmaker, the governor tends to draw heavy criticism from the more progressive base of his party for his willingness to concede ground on major issues to further other parts of his agenda.
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R)
Arguably the leading Republican in the state, John Flanagan assumed office in 2015 after his predecessor was arrested on corruption charges. Senator Flanagan represents parts of Long Island and is the major conservative figure Democrats need to negotiate with to pass statewide legislation. He is considered to be considering a run for governor in 2018.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D)
Elected Speaker of the Assembly after his predecessor was arrested on corruption charges in 2015, Carl Heastie represents a large section of the Bronx. He is the first African American to be elected Speaker of the Assembly and has significant say over what bills the Democrats in the State Assembly pass partially because of the influence he holds over the downstate New York City Democrats.
Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein (D)
This is the weird one. State Senator Jeff Klein, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester, is the leader of a fairly new conference in the State Senate known as the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC. In 2011, Jeff Klein led a group of Democrats in breaking away from the mainline Democratic Conference, which seemed like it would have a majority in the State Senate, and formed the IDC. There are 63 seats in the State Senate and although there are technically more Democrats, the 8-member IDC and one other rogue Democrat (Simcha Felder) have effectively given control of the legislative body to John Flanagan and the Republicans. These Democrats have a variety of motivations for doing this, but the express purpose is to foster bipartisan legislation, fix an ineffective state government, and push a progressive agenda. The IDC has, however, helped block a variety of Democratic bills, such as the DREAM Act, the Women’s Equality Act, and the New York State Liberty Act.