Simcha Felder

Simcha Felder’s lonely days are over

The four-term Brooklyn lawmaker, state Sen. Simcha Felder has a new life in the Democratic conference.

State Sen. Simcha Felder.

State Sen. Simcha Felder. Zach Williams

For many centrist Democrats, the chances of facing a competitive primary challenge have risen in recent months as the progressive and centrist wings of the party duel for supremacy at the state and national levels. State Sen. Simcha Felder, however, is resting a little easier in recent weeks because he finally has a political home in the Senate Democratic caucus.

Felder’s alliance with state Senate Republicans allowed them to retain a one-vote majority last year, and Democrats were in no hurry to readmit him to their conference after they won control of the chamber in November. While progressives were not able to unseat Felder last year, he returned to the Capitol a diminished figure, a senator without a conference. But vote by vote, Felder was able to get into the good graces of Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who announced on July 1 that Felder would be a member of the conference once the new legislative session begins next January. His 2018 primary challenger Blake Morris, meanwhile, says he has not yet decided whether he will run again against Felder, who won with about two-thirds of the vote last year.

City & State caught up with Felder on a recent afternoon at his district office. He spoke about why he’s glad to be back in the fold, and what he did with all that free time last session. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

So what’s it like to be a Senate Democrat now?

For the last six months I'd say I was isolated. It was pretty lonely. I'm delighted that I'm back and look forward to doing a lot of good things with my colleagues in the upcoming session. Of course I wanted to be back right away, but I also understood why I wasn't. 

You gave Democrats several key votes this past year, particularly on the Green Light bill that will allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses and a proposal to raise the sales tax in Westchester County. Was this your way of endearing yourself to their conference?

As a general rule, I will not vote in favor of a bill that compromises my religious, ethical or moral values – or if I have some compelling reason that I can’t vote in favor. A “yes” vote in general means that you're doing something to help your constituents. You mentioned a few bills. Some of them fit into the answer that I gave you. Some of them don't. 

Was the Green Light bill something you thought benefitted your constituents?

Yes.

What about the sales tax bill?

You got me on that one, but I would say I'm not in favor of raising taxes in general because it doesn't fit into what I just said to you. They were not my constituents in this case, but I'm not saying to you that I don't care as long as somebody else is paying the bill. I would say my Democratic colleagues made a compelling argument that they needed the sales tax. On this one I'm a little fuzzy. I would have to admit to you that it doesn't fit right into my general rule.

What did you get done this year? Did you get much legislation passed?

I would say I was frozen out. I don't want to harp on it, but that’s how I felt. The silver lining was I tried calling the office more often to find out about constituent cases that we were working on. In a normal legislative session, I wouldn't have had the time to do as many cases but this year I was trying to take more cases so that it would keep me occupied. The goal was to continue providing our constituent services, which I believe is the most important part of my job. That's something that goes on whether I'm in this caucus, that caucus, or anywhere else.

For example had this elderly Italian woman who was having a problem with National Grid because her heat was turned off. Even if we were successful, it was going to take a day for it to get back on. We went out and bought two heaters and brought it over to her house. More recently with the measles outbreak, we were doing testing to see whether people’s measles vaccines were still effective. Some people had measles shots years ago and the question was whether they were still immune. This is my bread and butter. If somebody said to me now, what would you like to be remembered by? I'd say, you know, helping people out with their day-to-day problems.

There are a lot of voices in the national political discourse that were considered fringe just a few years ago. Where do you draw the line between what’s acceptable and not?

There can be no compromise on hate of any sort. There's no such thing. You cannot bend. I want to believe that it's ignorance and a lack of education that causes people to say things that are really hateful. I want to believe that it's the lack of education and ignorance that causes someone to compare the Holocaust to the situation at the border. How can a rational person compare people that were transported to their deaths to the situation at the border? I'm not minimizing the situation at the border, but not every tragedy is the same.

But what do you make of elected officials who, for example, do interviews with fringe websites like Breitbart, which has trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes before?

Certainly people who have an interest in running for office are trying everything possible to get attention and if you're trying everything possible to get the attention then you do desperate things.

Do you think that your career has been overshadowed by issues like your past relationship with the Senate GOP or your effort to get the New York City Council to ban pigeon feeding?

I would say that's accurate. Because I'm an Orthodox Jew, some people have the impression that I have nothing else on my mind besides a very limited focus and it's just not so. For example, the HALT bill limiting solitary confinement is something that I'm very, very interested in. If somebody follows my career, they can see a slew of different issues besides constituent services that I've been involved with. There's an old Yiddish expression that sort of says: “I don't want to be treated special. I just don't want to be treated not special.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.