Chalk Up a Big Win For the Resistance in New York

Last November when Judith Shulevitz wrote about the resistance movement that was developing in coffee shops and living rooms across the country after the Women’s Marches the weekend of Trump’s inauguration, she included this about her own Indivisible group:

In my Indivisible chapter, for instance, we’re training our (to me) impressively ferocious energies on eight rogue New York state senators who were elected as Democrats but serve as Democrats-in-name-only. They have formed a group called the Independent Democratic Conference, which conferences with Republicans, thereby handing Republican senators control of a legislative body that actually has a slim Democratic majority. You can’t imagine how hard it is to explain the twists and turns of this labyrinthine issue even to politically sophisticated Upper West Siders. It took me weeks to understand it. And yet, most weekends you’ll find us on street corners jabbering away, because we can’t turn our statehouse blue until voters throw these turncoats out of office.

With the completion of the New York primaries yesterday, we can chalk up a huge win to the resistance.

Years of anger at a group of Democratic state senators who had collaborated with Republicans boiled over on Thursday, as primary voters ousted nearly all of them in favor of challengers who had called them traitors and sham progressives…

The most high-profile casualty was Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, the former head of the I.D.C. In that role, he was for years one of Albany’s most powerful players, sharing leadership of the chamber with his counterparts in the Republican conference and participating in the state’s secretive budget negotiations…

Also defeated were five other former I.D.C. members: Senators Tony Avella and Jose Peralta in Queens; Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn; Senator Marisol Alcántara in Manhattan; and Senator David Valesky in Syracuse…The only former I.D.C. members to survive the primary were Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island, and Senator David Carlucci, of Rockland County.

The interesting thing about that report from Vivian Wang is that she starts off the piece by writing that those losses were “a sign that the progressive fervor sweeping national politics had hobbled New York’s once-mighty Democratic machine, at least on a local level,” going on to point out how the winners had aligned themselves with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And yet later, when putting all of this in context with the other primaries in New York yesterday, she wrote that the “upsets spoke more to the strength of anti-Republican antipathy across the Democratic Party, than of anti-establishment sentiment in its far-left flank.”

The initial take from Wang is the narrative a lot of journalists and pundits just can’t seem to let go of, regardless of the actual facts on the ground. They have a need to analyze every outcome from the Democratic primaries to determine how it fits within the framework of “insurgents vs the Democratic machine.” But as Theda Skocpol and Lara Putman have documented, this is what the resistance movement is not:

This is not a leftist Tea Party, because newly engaged suburban activists hail from across the broad ideological range from center to left. It’s not a Sanders versus Clinton redux, because that “last year’s news” divide is flatly irrelevant to the people working shoulder-to-shoulder in the present. It’s not an Occupy Wall Street-type questioning of liberal democracy, because these activists believe laws can make good government as strong and transparent as possible.

The Democrats in New York that were ousted yesterday didn’t lose because they were part of the establishment. They lost because they were collaborating with Republicans to give them a majority. As Shulevitz wrote, the resistance couldn’t turn the statehouse blue until those legislators were gone. Hats off to the people on the ground who made that happen.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.