New York, Welcome to Your War on Women

Jeff Klein isn’t the first man to sacrifice women on the altar of self-interest. But he should be the last man to do it in New York State.

The Women’s Equality Act was supposed to be the crowning achievement of last year’s legislative session in Albany. Governor Cuomo vowed to make New York State canstockphoto10637081the “equality capital of the nation” and spent five months promoting it, only to have the legislation quashed at the eleventh hour by members of his own party. The four-person coalition gumming up the works call themselves the Independent Democratic Conference, but they are neither independent–they caucus with the Republicans–nor Democrats–did I mention they caucus with Republicans?

Their about face on abortion rights was enough to convince this women’s rights advocate that the IDC has no interest in gender equality, since I tend to believe equality includes the right to bodily autonomy.

But IDC leader Jeffrey D. Klein insists that his capitulation to the Republicans was a tactical decision, not a renunciation of a woman’s right to determine her reproductive future, going so far as to say he had ceded no ground: “The IDC would like nothing more than to bring this provision to the floor, but the votes just are not there.”

What he didn’t say was that he could have brought the vote to floor regardless–he just couldn’t do it without endangering his power-sharing agreement with the Republican minority.

Now Klein has tipped his hand. Taking a page from Tea Party Republicans, he announced plans to run his own candidates against Democratic incumbents, presumably those who like him, are willing to deny women the right to choose in exchange for political influence.

New York, welcome to your war on women.

Klein isn’t the first man to sacrifice women on the altar of self-interest. But he should be the last man to do it in New York State.  Back when he broke away from the Democratic caucus proper in 2011, he could claim he took issue with leader John Sampson. He could even say, “This isn’t a power grab,” with a straight face, though it was that exactly.

Now the Democratic leader he is threatening is Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and the issue he is leveraging his stature on is a woman’s right to choose. (The one woman in the IDC, Diane Savino, has already seen supporters of the WEA run ads calling her out on the issue in local newspapers.) Though Klein is already playing the victim, it’s going to be a hard sell.

It was one thing for the IDC to caucus with Republicans when the Democrats were led by Sampson. It is quite another to reject the leadership of an African-American woman, particularly when “co-leadership” of the Senate, committee assignments, and an office on the Capitol’s fifth floor, are part of the deal. Whether Klein is truly anti-woman or simply pro-himself, the optics, as they say, of a white man challenging the authority of an African-American woman, are not good. Only one of them will look like a bully.

Klein is having a tough time convincing anyone to challenge Stewart-Cousins. (Perhaps he ought to start by looking further than the next white male.) He will have a tougher time once women’s rights advocates turn their attention back towards passage of the Women’s Equality Act this session.

After a mayoral primary that put women on the defensive–whether they were proclaiming  their reasons for supporting Chris Quinn or explaining why they were not–women will welcome the opportunity to rally behind a common cause. And while I am loathe to suggest that Klein’s fishing expedition rises to the level of “scorn,” he might remember what Shakespeare said of women on the receiving end of it.  If he has any questions about the consequences. he can always ask misters Spitzer, Weiner, and Lopez. They have a lot of time on their hands these days.

Albany insiders don’t expect the legislature to reintroduce the Women’s Equality Act until the new year and doubt it can pass without a major push from Governor Cuomo. Until then, there is plenty of time to let your representatives know how you feel about the Senate’s failure to pass all ten points of the bill last session. The governor can be contacted here.