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Issues such as campaign-finance reform are dividing members, prompting vows to support challenges to incumbents at the next election.
The next state elections are 19 months away, but divides within the Democratic base are already roiling the party’s elected officials in Albany. One could see it in dueling demonstrations on a cobble-stoned street in Manhattan last week, when about 50 people protested at a campaign fundraiser hosted by state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. They inflated a man in a yellow hazmat suit, staging a “corruption cleanup” outside the wine bar Terroir Tribeca to criticize Mr. Heastie for taking large contributions, particularly from real-estate interests, while legislators prepare to tackle the renewal of New York City’s rent regulations.
Claire Ullman of Rise and Resist, a progressive political organization, said campaign-finance reform and a system where public money matches small contributions underpinned action in other policy areas. If officials like Mr. Heastie were accountable to small donors instead of the lobbyists at the fundraiser, they would enact policies that favored tenants and workers, Ms. Ullman said.
Another 20 people held a counter-demonstration in support of the speaker. Kirsten John Foy of the Arc of Justice, a civil rights group, said Mr. Heastie had been a progressive champion and just pushed to increase school funding and significantly reduce the use of cash bail.
The two groups of protesters shouted competing chants as about 100 people inside the fundraiser sipped wine and nibbled on stuffed mushrooms, pigs-in-a-blanket, popcorn and chips.
When they passed the budget two weeks ago, state lawmakers punted decisions on public campaign financing to a commission that will issue a report in December. Mr. Heastie expressed doubts about public financing during budget talks, and Ms. Ullman blamed him for the punt. She said her group would support primary challenges to incumbent Democrats next year if there wasn’t substantive campaign-finance reform.
Mr. Heastie shrugged off the threat of primary challenges, and said on his way into the event that his PAC in 2018 helped flip the state Senate into Democratic hands. He said he wasn’t accepting money from real-estate interests.
Similar tensions are bubbling within the state Senate Democratic conference. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Wednesday warned some of the newer, more progressive members of her conference about publicly encouraging challenges to incumbent Democrats.
After that huddle, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a progressive newcomer who recently accused some fellow legislators of being “captured by lobbyist influence,” had a heated exchange with longtime Democratic Sen. Kevin Parker, four people familiar with the incident said. Before the blowup, Mr. Parker affirmed Ms. Stewart-Cousins’ point and said the words of individual members reflected on everyone.
Then Ms. Biaggi brought up a December tweet from Mr. Parker in which he told a Republican aide to kill herself. Mr. Parker eventually apologized for the tweet, and a spokesman for Ms. Stewart-Cousins said the leader had talked with him about it. Ultimately, Mr. Parker stormed out of the Wednesday meeting. He declined to comment.
Ms. Biaggi said in a Friday statement said that Mr. Parker’s tweet had made her uncomfortable but she didn’t speak out against him at the time.
“I had held my tongue because I understood that leadership was handling it. Nothing else,” Ms. Biaggi said in a statement on Friday.
TIED UP: And then there were two: Sen. Phil Boyle, a Republican from Long Island, joined Sen. John Liu last week in participating in a formal floor session without wearing a necktie.
Mr. Liu, a freshman Democrat from Queens, created a stir among some of his fellow senators when he began attending sessions without a tie in January. He said he doesn’t like neckties, and he thought the chamber was very hot.
Mr. Boyle said he was forced to wear a tie while a member of the Assembly, and felt social pressure to keep doing so as a senator. Indeed, Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan walked up to him on the floor Tuesday and gave him a tie to put on, but Mr. Boyle declined.
“I’m sure there was one senator who walked on the floor without mutton chops 100 years ago and was the first to do so. Times change and fashions change,” Mr. Boyle said.
A spokesman for Mr. Flanagan said he believed customs are important. A spokesman for Ms. Stewart-Cousins said there was no formal policy requiring neck-ware in the chamber.
THE QUESTION: What is former Gov. George E. Pataki’s middle name?
LAST WEEK’S ANSWER: The Tappan Zee Bridge was built at one of the widest points in the Hudson River because the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has exclusive rights for toll revenue on crossings within 25 miles of the Statue of Liberty. The Tappan Zee was built by the Thruway Authority, and chose the site because it was narrowly outside the Port’s sphere of influence.
Corrections & Amplifications
Kirsten John Foy is affiliated with the Arc of Justice, a civil rights group. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said he was affiliated with the National Action Network. (April 14, 2019.)