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Democratic Insurgents Topple 6 New York Senate Incumbents

Category: Political News,Politics

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

The losses were a resounding upset for the members of the Independent Democratic Conference, who outspent their challengers several times over, but also a sign that the impatient progressive fervor sweeping national politics had hobbled New York’s once-mighty Democratic machine, at least on a local level.

The most high-profile casualty was Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, the former head of the I.D.C. In that position, 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.

[What exactly is the I.D.C.? Read our explainer here.]

But on Thursday, he was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi, a lawyer and former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after a campaign in which Ms. Biaggi cornered Mr. Klein into spending nearly $2 million — more than 10 times what she spent — since January, an astonishing sum for a state legislative race. (Cynthia Nixon, in her bid against Mr. Cuomo, spent less.)

[Mr. Cuomo relied on his formidable war chest to beat Ms. Nixon and win the Democratic nomination to run for a third term.]

In addition to Mr. Klein, at least four other former I.D.C. members had lost their races: Senator Tony Avella in Queens; Senator Jose Peralta in Queens; Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn; Senator Marisol Alcántara in Manhattan.

In another high-profile race, Senator Martin Dilan, who was not part of the I.D.C., was defeated by Julia Salazar, a 27-year-old democratic socialist whose candidacy energized young voters in swaths of gentrifying Brooklyn, despite near-constant controversy in the final weeks of the campaign.

The I.D.C.’s challengers had offered themselves as “true blue” alternatives to a cast of so-called fake Democrats, accusing the incumbents of blocking reams of progressive legislation. Though the I.D.C. disbanded in April — the move was widely viewed as a concession to rising pressure from the party’s left flank — the challengers were not satisfied, insisting that the incumbents had proven they were more interested in self-advancement than progressive change.

In reality, the challengers’ victories alone will have little effect on the fate of progressive legislation in Albany. The true test of that will come in November’s general election, when Democrats seek to flip several Republican-held Senate seats and regain control of the chamber.

But the challengers’ wins sent a resounding symbolic message: The restless, impatient mood that has swelled within the national Democratic Party this year had come for local incumbents, too.

Several of the I.D.C. challengers, as well as Ms. Salazar, had aligned themselves with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old first-time politician who, in a June congressional primary, upset Representative Joseph Crowley, the No. 4 Democrat in the House. Ms. Biaggi and Jessica Ramos, who defeated Mr. Peralta, appeared alongside Ms. Ocasio-Cortez several times after her win. Ms. Ramos’s district overlaps with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s.

Ms. Salazar in particular drew constant comparisons to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez campaigned vigorously for her, dispatching her own volunteers to Brooklyn to canvass for her and promoting her to her large Twitter following.

The challengers also allied themselves with Ms. Nixon’s challenge to Mr. Cuomo, and to Zephyr Teachout’s attorney general bid. The Working Families Party, a progressive minor party and frequent antagonist of the governor, endorsed all the challengers and provided training and staff for their campaigns.

Still, the divergent fates of the challengers and Ms. Nixon and Ms. Teachout suggested that the I.D.C. results said more about the strength of anti-Republican antipathy across the Democratic Party, than anti-establishment sentiment in its far-left flank. At a polling site at Manhattan College in the Bronx on Thursday afternoon, several voters who said they had chosen Ms. Biaggi because of their distaste for Mr. Klein’s affiliation with Senate Republicans, also picked Mr. Cuomo over Ms. Nixon, citing the governor’s experience.

So too with many of the establishment figures who endorsed the challengers but also backed Mr. Cuomo, such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Representative Carolyn Maloney and the City Council Speaker, Corey Johnson.

Mr. Klein and his fellow former I.D.C. members, despite their formidable fund-raising advantages, did not enjoy the same high-profile support. (Though Mr. Peralta’s campaign did distribute a flier with a photo of him and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez — a flier that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez roundly rejected.) While they had nominally won the backing of Mr. Cuomo and their Democratic colleagues in the Senate after announcing their dissolution, Mr. Cuomo — who himself has been accused of tacitly supporting the I.D.C. — said little if anything about them on the campaign trail.

The former I.D.C. members had faced primary challenges before, and they had long been a favorite target for Democratic officials and activists. But that anger, for years restricted to only the most politically attuned New Yorkers, crested over the past few months, in tandem with the surge of progressive energy nationwide after the 2016 presidential election.

Activists, and some of the candidates, began calling the I.D.C. members “Trump Democrats” and sought to educate voters who knew nothing about their senators’ so-called betrayal.

“We didn’t exist a few months ago, and now we’ve raised over $250,000,” said Jim Casteleiro, the campaign manager of No I.D.C. NY, a volunteer group that supported the challengers.

Nearly all the voters at the Bronx poll site on Thursday who backed Ms. Biaggi cited Mr. Klein’s role in the I.D.C. as a motivating factor.

“He’s a good man, but I don’t think it’s time for ushering in another Republican majority,” Peter McHugh, 59, said of Mr. Klein.

Maya Friedson, 18 and voting for the first time, was even more blunt in explaining why she had voted for Ms. Biaggi. “Because Jeff Klein is a member of the I.D.C.,” she said.

Also potentially harmful to Mr. Klein was the barrage of negative headlines in recent months, including an accusation of sexual misconduct against him and a state Board of Elections finding of improper campaign financing.

The challengers’ victories boosted the emerging progressive narrative that the old political model — buying expensive television ads, cozying up to real estate, corralling union support — had been displaced by vigorous grass-roots organizing.

Each challenger outspent his or her opponent on Facebook advertisements, sometimes by a huge margin. Ms. Biaggi and her allies spent between $14,500 and $93,800 on Facebook ads since the website’s online archive launched in May, while Mr. Klein and his supporters spent between $2,400 and $14,796. The challengers also recruited volunteers to fan out across their districts and knock on doors.

Ms. Salazar adopted similar tactics against Mr. Dilan, who although he was not a member of the I.D.C. was successfully cast as another out-of-touch corporate Democrat who had not fought sufficiently for tenants’ rights and other working class issues. The Democratic Socialists of America, of which Ms. Salazar is a member, deployed its full organizing power for her in Brooklyn, and she, like some of the I.D.C. challengers, was boosted by the high-profile support of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.

A string of negative headlines about her in the final weeks of the campaign — suggesting that she had misled reporters and voters about her immigration status, religious background or socioeconomic status — seemed to have had little impact.

Still, there are geographic limitations to the grass-roots organizing model, said Lina Newton, a political-science professor at Hunter College, who observed that Ms. Nixon had deployed similar tactics to no avail on a statewide level.

“Personal outreach is much more important on a local level,” Professor Newton said.

Mariana Alfaro, Nate Schweber and Angela Macropoulos contributed reporting.

Follow Vivian Wang on Twitter: @vwang3

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Insurgents Unseat Bloc of G.O.P.-Leaning Democrats in State Senate. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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