Adi Talwar

Sen. Marisol Alcantara is fighting off a primary challenge from Robert Jackson two years after they placed first and third in a very tight Democratic primary.

The race in the 31st State Senate district is unlikely to affect the balance of power in the upper chamber of the New York legislature. Centered in Northern Manhattan and tracing down that borough’s West Side, the district is almost certainly going to stay in Democratic hands come the start of the 2019 session. Races elsewhere in the state, and decided later in the calendar, will determine whether Republicans maintain their traditional control of that body, or whether Democrats will have a chance to enact an agenda that includes labor reforms for farmworkers, rent reform for stabilized tenants and key fixes to the state’s antiquated criminal justice machinery.

But the contest in the 31st might be the purest test of a question threaded into at least seven other Senate contests on September 13: Will voters be motivated one way or another by an incumbent’s membership in the now defunct Independent Democratic Conference, which for several year aligned itself with Senate Republicans?

Incumbent Marisol Alcantara won a narrow election in 2016 with massive financial backing from the IDC and promptly became the seventh of its eventual eight members. She says this move allowed her to advance legislation and bring home resources to the district–and contends that her membership in the IDC did not decide control of the Senate, which was already in Republican hands thanks to Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder’s decision to caucus with the GOP. She believes she is being subjected to a level of scrutiny over her allegiances and campaign finance that other candidates, who are not Latina immigrants, do not endure.

Robert Jackson, a four-term City Councilmember who is making his third run for the seat after placing a close third two years ago, argues that the very existence of the IDC gave Felder the cover he needed to keep the Republicans in charge. And having the Republicans in charge, he argues, meant that truly meaningful legislation was kept on ice as the party of Donald Trump was given a comfortable operational majority. He says that having a “true” Democrat in the city will do more to advance the needs of women, Latinos, and immigrants than re-electing a “turncoat.”

The two joined Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and me this week on Max & Murphy, the interview and call-in show about politics, policy and people in New York City and New York State, which airs every Wednesday from 5 to 6 p.m. on WBAI 99.5 FM.

Listen to our conversations below: