This is the Brooklyn Democrat with power to hold up the state...

This is the Brooklyn Democrat with power to hold up the state budget

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Meet the powerful member of the Republican State Senate majority with the power to hold up the state budget: Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat.

With the fiscal year’s end looming, budget talks hit a Felder-sized roadblock after he demanded the inclusion of a provision that would allow private yeshivas to be exempted from state standards for non-religious instruction.

How’d one man wind up with the power to stall an entire state’s budget over an issue that affects a small segment of the population?

Felder is a Democrat who caucuses with the Senate Republicans — and gives them their razor-thin 32-vote majority.

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“He is the center of the Albany universe,” one insider quipped.

Felder, a former Brooklyn city councilman, was elected to the state senate in 2012 as a Democrat but announced shortly after that he intended to caucus with Republicans — which her has done ever since.

In 2016, he ran on the Republican, Democratic and Conservative lines — and had said he’d caucus with whatever conference gave his constituents the best deal, leaving Democrats with hopes they could woo him back. But he ultimately went back to the GOP fold.

The state’s budget is due by Sunday — but the real deadline is earlier, with both the Passover and Easter holidays imminent. Felder and other lawmakers observing Passover intended to leave Albany by early Friday afternoon.

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“It’s the classic Albany game of chicken,” the insider said. “It’s a perfect scenario — budget, late budget, Cuomo running for governor, special elections coming, the holidays coming.”

And the Democratic-controlled State Assembly has said they intend to sign budget bills without the yeshiva provision and to leave town.

"Let it be up to the Senate Republicans to shut down government," Heastie said. "99.9% of the budget is done."

Felder refused to discuss the yeshiva issue with reporters Friday but denied he was the budget blockade.

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"I am not Moses, I am not Jesus," Felder said. "I am not that powerful."

To that end, it looked increasingly likely Friday that, with extenders off the table and a Sunday looming, the Senate would pass a budget to match the Assembly’s, without Felder’s demands, in order to avoid a shutdown.

But that Felder could hold up negotiations as long as he did is an indication of his powerful perch atop the Senate’s margin.

“He’s our version of the filibustering Washingtonians,” political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said.

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Standing up for the yeshiva issue, even if he isn’t ultimately successful, is a win-win for Felder, Sheinkopf argued — because it’s a top issue to many Orthodox Jewish voters who live in his district.

“He’s ultimately going to back off,” Sheinkopf predicted. “But if he didn’t take the stand, he might be looking for new work. And unemployment is always a motivator for political people. In his case, lots of angry guys with beards would be chasing him down the street.”

It’s an open question how long Felder can retain the extraordinary amount of leverage he has in Albany — Democrats hope to pick up a couple seats in upcoming special elections.

“This is his moment,” the insider said. “Right now, he’s basically the Senate president. But as time goes, that power weakens because of the shift that’s coming.”

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Asked about whether Felder’s demands were holding up New York City’s budget priorities — like speed cameras — Mayor de Blasio said Friday he thought all kids needed a good education, and all issues ought to be heard on their merits.

“I’d like to suggest in general what we need to do more of is separating all these issues and treating them on their merits,” he said of the horse-trading on policies. “This is a real frustration I have with the process in Albany. And something like speed cameras, that’s about saving lives, is totally different than an education curriculum issue.”

Felder’s push to spare yeshivas from regulation comes as critics have insisted the religious schools need just the opposite — more oversight from the state, alleging they do not provide requisite education in English and secular studies. Members of the Hasidic community have charged the critics simply do not like the religion’s way of life.

In 2015, de Blasio said the city would investigate secular education in yeshivas, which receive millions in state and city funding — but as of September 2017, the city had visited just six schools.

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Some critics of the city’s investigations noted that Orthodox Jewish voters are seen as a powerful voting bloc. Sheinkopf argued that was one reason Felder would remain powerful, even if the math in Albany changes.

“He’ll always be powerful because he has a very distinct voting bloc that votes en masse, that is uniform, and doesn’t have amnesia,” Sheinkopf said. “They’ll be talking about this for a decade — Simcha took on the bad guys in Albany and we almost won.”

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