After six years representing the most densely Orthodox populated district in New York State, Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder finds himself wielding the deciding vote in the Senate in Albany, giving him unprecedented political leverage.
Ever since Governor Andrew Cuomo brokered a deal in early April to end the 7-year rebellion of the 8-member Independent Democratic Conference against the Democratic leadership of the State Senate, the soft-spoken Felder has been the last obstacle to full Democrat political control over the state government in Albany. With Felder’s vote, Republicans in the Senate in Albany still hold a razor thin 32-31 majority, to the frustration of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who sees the Shomer Shabbos Felder as a stubborn obstacle to implementing his liberal state legislative agenda.
Ever since Felder first won his Senate seat in 2012, running on the Democratic party line, he has caucused with Republicans in the State Senate, claiming that doing so has enabled him to best represent the interests of the people in his district.
Felder insists that he is politically bipartisan at heart, noting that he ran for re-election in 2014 and 2016 unopposed, with his name also appearing on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines. But Felder declined to accept Cuomo’s invitation to join with the members of the Independent Democratic Conference in uniting behind Democrat Senate leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, denying Democrats, once again, a ruling majority in the Senate. In retaliation, the Cuomo and Democrat party leaders have thrown their support behind Blake Morris, who is challenging Felder’s nomination for his 17th district State Senate seat in the September 13 Democrat primary.
Blake has told the Forward that he intends to take advantage of an “opening with non-Orthodox voters and those struggling economically in Boro Park.” But veteran Albany political observer Dr. Alan Chartock believes that Felder’s loyal supporters “are not going to turn their backs on him.”
Felder believes that most of his constituents in the 17th district don’t really care which party he caucuses with in Albany, as long as the choice enables him to best serve their interests. He is proud that he has developed so many first name basis personal relationships with community residents, during the years since 2002, when he began representing them as a City Councilman.
Simcha has lived his whole life in the Boro Park-Flatbush community. He grew up as the son of Rabbi Tzvi Mordechai Felder, in a small apartment in the rear of the “Felder shul” on 18th Avenue and 49th Street in Boro Park. Simcha credits the many acts of chesed by his parents with deeply imbuing him with a desire to help others, which continues to be his primary motive for serving as an elected official.
Felder credits Boro Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind, for whom he volunteered as a young man, as his political mentor and role model. Simcha is also generous in sharing the political credit with other elected officials who joined with him in fighting for key initiatives. These include Democrats such as Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein and Governor Cuomo who supported the law which established government-paid door-to-door transportation for New York yeshiva students.
Simcha counts among his most important legislative accomplishments blocking passage of a measure supported by Mayor Bill deBlasio which would impose a charge on shoppers for every plastic or paper bag they use. The action is consistent with Simcha’s belief that New Yorkers are over-taxed, over-ticketed and over-fined.
Simcha is proud of the state legislation which established minimum academic standards for yeshivos without interfering with their limudei kodesh curriculum. He stood up to opposition from Democrats in Albany and demanded more tax breaks for yeshiva tuition. He is also involved on almost a daily basis with families which have children with special needs. He is committed to working with officials at the OPWDD to make sure that these children and their families get the state services and support which they need and to which they are entitled.
The common denominator for many of Simcha’s efforts is working to improve the safety and the quality of life for all families seeking to raise their children in his district, and throughout New York State. He is also proud to provide support for the community’s most worthy facilities and institutions, such as libraries, playgrounds, schools and chesed organizations. Simcha’s most challenging political decisions are guided by Torah principles and informed by Daas Torah, and he has, when necessary, stood alone in Albany to fight for his beliefs.
Several local Orthodox leaders have expressed their resentment of the intrusion by Cuomo and state Democrat party leaders and their attempt to divide the Boro Park-Flatbush community by mounting a politically-inspired challenge to Felder.
Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition co-founder Chaskel Bennett warned that party leaders “will regret the outrageous decision to kick Simcha out of the party.” He noted that in past elections, Felder attracted the support of “thousands of registered Democrats” and predicted that he “will do so again, with or without the Democratic line [on the ballot].”
Felder understands why he is being challenged in this September’s primary, and is ready to make his case for reelection to those who live in the community he has served since 2002. Simcha also realizes that the same political forces which have turned him into a target have maximized his political leverage in Albany. He says that he is determined to use that leverage, for as long as it lasts, for the benefit of his constituents in Boro Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst.