NY State Senate: The farce goes on

by on June 11, 2009  •  In Uncategorized

For a fourth day, pandemonium reigned in Albany.

Republicans used a mysterious set of keys to force their way into the Senate chamber for the first time since their leadership coup on Monday. Protesters chanted “Senate not for sale” and banged on the chamber’s windows while Republicans tried to convene. And the Republicans’ vow to resume the session fizzled after one of the two dissident Democrats they were depending on for a quorum, Hiram Monserrate of Queens, walked out of the chamber shortly after the proceedings began.

Both sides continued to battle in court; a hearing is set for Friday morning, and Democrats will argue that the Republicans’ coup was illegitimate.

“The dysfunction and chaos in the Senate has wasted an entire week of the people’s business,” a clearly irritated Gov. David A. Paterson said in a statement released Thursday. He has been largely relegated to the sidelines during the dispute.

By day’s end, it was clear that the balance of power in the state’s upper house — and the very gears of state government — continued to rest in the hands of Mr. Monserrate, who was indicted in March on charges of slashing his female companion with a broken glass.

As he was leaving the Senate chamber, a Republican staff member dashed after him, pleading, “Senator, we need you back in there.” But Mr. Monserrate said he was committed to recruiting more Democrats to join the coalition and would be holding meetings all day in hopes of doing so, even as those Democrats were simultaneously trying to woo him back to their side.

There were many other developments throughout the day. The Senate’s new president, Pedro Espada Jr., a Bronx Democrat sharing power with Republicans, tried to lure his former Democratic colleagues back to the chamber by offering to bring same-sex marriage legislation to the Senate’s floor next week, for the first time in the Senate’s history.

His comments prompted the Senate’s only openly gay member, Thomas K. Duane, to say he was open to abandoning the Democratic caucus, a day after his staff insisted he was staying put. “Today, I’m in the Democratic conference, and I’m a Democrat,” he added. “There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone what’s going to happen when everyone comes back on Monday.”

Democrats also huddled behind closed doors to decide the fate of their leader, Malcolm A. Smith, whom many blame for losing control of the first Democratic Senate majority in four decades after just five months. Senator John L. Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat, is seen as Mr. Smith’s most likely potential successor, though Democrats cautioned that they were not yet prepared to depose Mr. Smith.

Further complicating matters, Mr. Monserrate reiterated his support for Mr. Espada, but would not answer when asked repeatedly if he still supported Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican who was named majority leader on Monday, in a power-sharing deal with Mr. Espada.

Certainly, the rising political fortunes of Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate have given many pause. Mr. Monserrate has his pending criminal case. Mr. Espada has been fined more than $60,000 for failing to disclose his campaign contributions; the attorney general is investigating whether a nonprofit group he founded misappropriated money, and the Bronx district attorney is investigating whether his primary residence is in his district.

As Senate president, he would become governor if David A. Paterson were incapacitated, though a court temporarily blocked Mr. Espada from becoming second in the line of succession Thursday. If he remains president, it appears that the State Constitution gives Mr. Espada the authority to issue pardons even if Mr. Paterson is merely traveling out of state — potentially even to himself — though there is some dispute about the legal fine points.

Source: NY Times


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