“Felder: Fake Democrat” Progressives Shout To Be Heard By Conservative Lawmakers

Avenue J between East 14th and 15th Streets, March 30. (Photo by Carly Miller)

It’s budget time in Albany, and Simcha Felder’s progressive constituents are taking to the streets to demand that the state senator, who’s voted with Republicans for the past four years, hear their voices.

The NY State 17th District for Progress rallied at least 30 people to chant, flier, and demand representation on Avenue J this morning, calling the senator a “fake democrat.”

The progressive, grassroots group is only a couple months old, said organizer Natasha Wimmer, attracting constituents who have recently learned that their Democratic State Senator consistently votes with the GOP. For example, in June Felder blocked a bill by democrats to impose a 5 cent fee on plastic bags, calling the fee a “tax on the poor.” (The controversial bill was struck down by Governor Cuomo in February.)

“Although you have run as a Democrat, your support for Republican positions prevents important legislation from passing in the New York State Legislature,” states the petition to Felder, which was hand-delivered to his Brooklyn office today. “Do the right thing for all of your constituents.”

Constituents Jess Byrne, Leah Wasserman, and Grace Veras Sealy.(Photo by Carly Miller)

The issues, in brief

The progressive constituent group is demanding that Felder drop his bill to raise the speed limit on Ocean Parkway, and support four other bills sitting on his desk right now: the New York Health Act, Raise The Age of criminal responsibility to at least 18, voter reforms, and school funding.

“We want Felder to endorse the NY Health Act [create a universal single-payer health plan], which is just two votes away from a majority in the senate,” said Ditmas Park resident JP Schlegelmilch. The bill is currently stuck in the Senate Health Committee, but Felder hasn’t made a public decision yet.

“New York has some of the most repressive and archaic voter laws,” said Jess Byrne, noting that the state ranks 41st in voter turnout. “Albany politicians act like this is a lifetime job. If more people vote, they wouldn’t know what to expect.”

“I always vote,” said constituent Grace Veras Sealey, one of the 117,000 Brooklyn voters improperly erased from the voter rolls last year. Sealy was turned away at the primary polls and re-registered — but still had trouble voting during the general election. She voted affidavit and only recently learned that her vote was counted in November. “That just shouldn’t happen,” she said, holding a sign demanding “Automatic Voter Registration Or Get The Fuck Out” (spelled in an acronym).

“Putting children in lockup shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” said another constituent advocating for Raise the Age, who wished to remain anonymous.

The only line-item in the group’s list that Felder has publicly supported is the one that the group vehemently opposes — the bill to raise the speed limit on Ocean Parkway back to the pre-Vision Zero 30mph.

Last week, the issue caused an uproar from Kensington to Sheepshead Bay, with many drivers supporting the bill as a potential traffic reliever, and others citing the dramatically higher risks for pedestrians. But the lines aren’t always cut-and-dry.

“I’m a driver, too,” said Holly White, who lives near Ocean Parkway. White is passionate about lower speed limits because she’s afraid every time her 9-year-old son has to cross the parkway by himself.

(Photo by Carly Miller)

Felder’s divided constituent base

New York’s State Senate District 17 spans a wide — and politically divided — swath of Brooklyn, including Borough Park, parts of Bensonhurst, Sheepshead Bay, Sunset Park, Ditmas Park, Kensington, and Midwood.

And not all the passersby on Avenue J expressed support for the progressive priorities, especially members of the visibly Ultra-Orthodox Jewish base. “I love Trump,” said one yarmulke-wearing man, incredulously. He darted into the Dunkin’ Donuts but came right back out to probe the crowd.

“Trump the anti-Semite?” shouted a protester after him. “There’s so much cognitive dissonance here.”

“Felder represents me,” said another woman, objecting to the flier pushed into her hands. “25mph on Ocean Parkway just doesn’t make sense around here,” she said, citing her main concerns as improved sanitation and workers compensation reforms.

But there are different voices even within Borough Park’s Jewish base, said Suzanne, who works at the neighborhood’s Progressive Temple Beth Ahavot Shalom, (though she came out today as a private citizen.)

“Felder’s most vocal base is very conservative, but they’re Democrat in name, so they like his whole shtick,” said one resident, who wished to remain anonymous.

“When my family and I immigrated here 20 years ago, we were just trying to get settled and weren’t paying attention to politics,” they said. “I think he’s really taking advantage of that base.”

Through the din of protesters singing, and sporadic, combative conversations on the corner, they added that progressives need to reach out to Rabbis and congregations — the real influencers in the community.

“We object to being ignored” 

Protesters claimed that they’ve tried to get an in-person meeting with Felder, but were thwarted by his staff. Some said they got Felder on the phone but felt like they were being kept at arm’s length. “You feel like it’s just lip service,” said White. “It’s a hugely diverse district,” she said. “But there are a lot of voices not being heard.”

“We object to being ignored,” the petition states, echoing gripes from Bay Ridge residents in U.S. Congressman Dan Donovan’s district.

Progress representative David Goldberg, pushing a baby stroller, hand-delivered the petition to Felder’s office, bearing 66 signatures from constituents mostly from Kensington, Ditmas Park, Midwood, and Sunset Park. And for many, this is just the beginning.

“This is just a warning shot,” said another protestor. “It’s time to vote him out.”

(Photo by Carly Miller)

While there was no one to make a statement at Felder’s Brooklyn office today, said a phone operator, Felder wrote this statement when “Jews Against Trump” protesters rallied outside his office in December, reports Kings County Politics:

“I have to do what’s best for my constituents. While I appreciate that some of my constituents may feel differently, I have also found that the majority of those who have contacted me about who I caucus with are not disappointed by my decision [to support Trump],” said Felder.

“For the last four years, I’ve caucused with the Republicans because, irrespective of party affiliation, I never give up on trying to do what’s best for the people I represent. Parties are not a religion. I won’t be intimidated by those who feel differently,” he added.

[We reached out to Senator Felder’s office for comment but were told there would be no one to speak with until Monday. We will add in comments at that time.]

share this story


  1. Nobody available from the Senator’s staff until Monday to respond to residents’ valid concerns? Great constituent service operation there!

  2. Thank you for your article. One correction, though. The bill to ban plastic bags was passed by the New York City Council (sponsored by Brad Lander) and was about to go into effect when Felder introduce his bill in Albany to halt it, leading to the New York State legislature to overrule the wishes of the city.

  3. “Felder’s most vocal base is very conservative, but they’re Democrat in name, so they like his whole shtick,”

    “I think he’s really taking advantage of that base.”

    Those two statements seem to contradict each other.

    The fact is, like it or not, that Felder’s base and district is more conservative than some others in the area. If the protesters feel they want to be in a more leftist environment, they can move to someplace like Park Slope. A small group of of ultra-liberal vocal protesters do not represent the district.

    The fact is that Felder has been elected overwhelmingly.

  4. Asked Felders office for help once and was given cold shoulder and told to wait in line. Staff literally pulled out a box in front of me and tossed my papers into it. Forget helpful these people were outright disrespectful. And this meeting happened after my papers went “missing” the first three times.

  5. Time to make people’s voices heard the next time Felder is up for reelection. He’s a make believe Democrat who hopefully won’t be able to count on his orthodox jewish voters in 2018. I’m Jewish and I’m appalled at his voting with Republicans!! He should be ashamed of himself being in the democratic party!

  6. The Republican Party is supported by the American Nazi party and the Ku Klux Klan. Republican Party is the party of antisemitism. Felder is a shanda.

  7. they can blow lots of hot air, but the District is NOT what these guys are- look at the pictures there- white Older liberals. The district is largely Orthodox and he certainly represents it. I am just amazed that there are no minorities in that crowd either – the White LIberals disdain Black people- they are into patronizing us

  8. It’s called compromise, it’s something lawmakers weren’t afraid of at one point in time. Felder is one of the very few that stands as a leader who is willing to put aside his differences to make our city, and state a better place. In addition to that, unlike some lawmakers, he votes with his community and district. The majority of the people living in the confines of his district approve of the legislation and votes he’s made during the duration of his tenure. We’re lucky to have him represent our community, and I’m willing to bet that the majority of those who signed the petition (yes out of the whole 66 of them) don’t even live in his district.

  9. “..she’s afraid every time her 9-year-old son has to cross the parkway by himself.”
    What? Why is a 9-year old crossing OP by hi,self anyway?!?? This borders on criminal child endangerment!

  10. If Felder cares about his constituency, he’ll vote for the New York Health Act. According to an economic analysis conducted by a professor at UMass Amherst, the act would lower health care costs in 98% of New York households and save 45 billion per year in overall health care costs.
    Read it here:
    Or a summary here:

  11. If Felder cares about his constituency, he’ll pass the New York Health Act. According to an economic analysis conducted by a professor at UMass Amherst, the act will lower health care costs in 98% of New York households while saving 45 billion a year in overall health care costs. The bill would cover all New Yorkers’ medical, mental, vision, hearing, and dental care, with no co-pays or deductibles, paid for by a progressive payroll deduction. And Simcha Felder is the only “Democrat” keeping it from majority support in the same Senate. if his constituents knew how much it would save them, would they be so happy with his stance?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *