110 demonstrators marched in front of and across the street from state Senator Marisol Alcantara's office Friday afternoon, the latest in a series of demonstrations targeting Democrats who are aligned with the Independent Democratic Conference.
Chanting slogans such as "Marisol has sold her soul" and "No fake Democrats, take the New York Senate back," and holding signs that read "Sen. Alcantara We Need You" and "Alcantara Complicite", the crowd of protesters handed out flyers to passersby and marched in a small circle outside of Alcantara's district office in Inwood. The group was large enough that some of them had to move across the street, in front of Isham Park, in order to provide room for other people using the sidewalk.
David Ochoa, a 71-year-old who lives in Alcantara's district, told Gothamist that he was there to tell Alcantara he regretted voting for her. Ochoa said that "I wasn't hip to what she was about" and hadn't realized she was a member of the GOP-aligned conference of Democrats when he voted for her in November. "It's shocking that someone from a minority community would do that. I don't think the Republicans do anything for minorities," Ochoa said.
Activist Maria Bautista, 32, was there with the Alliance for Quality Education, which helped put the rally together with Rise and Resist. She said she was there because she felt the IDC was standing in the way of getting Albany to pay school districts across the state as a result of a judge's decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. There's not one word" about fully funding schools in the IDC's budget, Bautista said, which she found particularly galling because "Marisol represents a high-needs district. There's high poverty, English language learners and special needs children." So, Bautista said that she was there to "remind [Alcantara] that she doesn't represent Scarsdale, she represents Washington Heights and Marble Hill." While she didn't live in Alcantara's district, she did live in fellow IDC member Jose Peralta's district.
The demonstrators eventually all met up across the street from the office, and marched from Broadway and 214th Street down to the 207th Avenue stop on the A train. Harris Doran, who lives in Alcantara's district and is an organizer with the group Rise and Resist, told Gothamist that there was "absolutely" an effort by his group and other liberal groups to find primary challengers for the IDC members in the state Senate. Rise and Resist, he said, was involved in putting together outside of the offices of a different IDC member every two weeks. There's also going to be a protest outside Republican caucusing Democrat Simcha Felder's office at in the future, because "there's no Simcha Felder or the IDC separately," Duran said. He continued, "there's just both of them together. The nine of them together hand over the Democratic majority, period."
This particular demonstration was held in the wake of a blow-up between Alcantara and a mainline Democrat, Deputy Minority Leader Michael Gianaris, on the state Senate floor in which she accused him of using white privilege after he said that the IDC agrees with "Trump Republicans." And while the timing was just coincidental according to Duran, he helped credit it with increasing the turnout. "People saw what she did on the Senate floor, and they're not okay with that," he told Gothamist.
Lisa Dellaquila, 40, told Gothamist that she had started getting involved in anti-IDC work before the election, after realizing that Alcantara had taken money from the group. First working with a few friends in her home neighborhood of Inwood, she joined up with the group True Blue New York to keep pushing against the IDC. For Dellaquila, whether Alcantara joins up with mainline Democrats or gets primaried isn't much of a concern to her. "Whatever it takes to get the Democrats back the Senate," she said. Her reasoning was that "we need a strong Democratic majority in the state protecting us from the Trump agenda." While talking with us, Dellaquila was stopped by an employee of a pizza restaurant who asked what the group was marching about. When she explained what the IDC was, and that they have a power sharing agreement with Republicans in the state Senate, the man said "Ohhh, so she changed."
Dellaquila was also put off by the fight Alcantara had with Gianris last week. "I am not unmindful of the serious challenges that women of color face in politics. but the truth is that the IDC has helped prevent Andrea Stewart-Cousins from becoming majority leader and instead we've got two white guys running the Senate. When she's wielding racism as a weapon, she's also enabling it by having Jeff Klein and John Flanagan in charge."
Alcantara sent the following statement to Gothamist when asked about her reaction to the protest:
I fully support the rights of New Yorkers to make their voices heard. In January, I joined hundreds of New Yorkers protesting Donald Trump's inauguration, even getting arrested in the process. Standing up to Donald Trump's hateful policies and making sure that New York resists his harmful agenda, while getting results for New York's working- and middle-class families motivates me every day in office.
I am a union organizer. I am an immigrant, and the daughter of an immigrant. And I am a lifelong progressive Democrat. The reality is that even without the Independent Democratic Conference, Republicans would hold a legislative majority in Albany. As a member of the Independent Democratic Conference and our governing coalition, I am making my voice and the voice of all of my constituents heard. The stakes are too high for me to sit on the sidelines. I will work with all parties and all conferences to ensure positive and progressive outcomes for the people of my district.
Beyond the fight that Alcantara had with Gianris last week, the protest also coincided with a couple of other developments regarding the state Senate and the IDC. In Queens, activists in Jackson Heights are lobbying the Democratic Organization of Queens County to kick Jose Peralta out of the Democratic Party, although that action would have to be approved by a state judge. And upstate, state Senator Robert Ortt was indicted for violating state election law. If Ortt was convicted and had to step down, there would be 31 Democrats and 31 Republicans in the state Senate before a special election could be held to replace Ortt.