Watch out for Albany’s new Four Amigos

The “coalition” of Independent Democrats and Republicans that took control of the New York State Senate last week threatens to suppress the voices and participation of Latino, African-American and Asian lawmakers. This so-called coalition is dominated by white lawmakers. Since communities of color account for 50% of the state’s population, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and advocacy groups must push for diversity in the Senate.

Four Democratic senators—Diane Savino, David Carlucci, David Valesky and Jeff Klein (and more recently, Malcolm Smith, an African-American)—left their party’s caucus to join Republicans. Their intention was to create a majority and take control of the upper house.

These types of alliances are generally cause for concern and subject to intense scrutiny. In 2009, when Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. and former Sen. Pedro Espada, Hiram Monserrate and Carl Kruger joined forces with Republicans to take control of the Senate, there was strong backlash from elected officials and the media. The event went down in history as a coup by the “Four Amigos,” presumably a reference to three of the four politicans being Hispanic.

We point to this not as a means of justifying that maneuver in 2009 or defending partisan agendas. Rather, we can’t ignore the contradiction and double standard. This new alliance of politicians has been welcomed by Gov. Cuomo. The level of scrutiny from the media so far pales in comparison to the 2009 episode.

We understand that it’s possible for Independent Democrats to win support from Republicans to pass relevant legislation for minority communities. However, this arrangement undermines the power of minority lawmakers to make decisions, since almost all members of the Democratic Assembly were excluded from this pact.

This new “shared power” model looks like a blow to the diversity of state government. We expect Gov. Cuomo understands this point and advocates so that all New York voters are represented fairly in Albany.