Your Government At Work
July 9th, 2009

It has been a perverse roller coaster ride of a day at the Capitol, full of twists and turns, charades, long-winded speeches and odd — even unbecoming — behavior by elected officials.

Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. flipped back to the Democratic caucus, giving Democrats control once again of the Senate. In the afternoon, Espada and his representatives met with Democrats in the office of Sen. Malcolm Smith. After news broke of Espada’s switch he made his way out of his fourth floor office and downstairs to Smith’s office with his wife’s hand in his. Reporters shouted questions and cameras rolled all the way.

Power-sharing Negotiations between a faction of Democratic Senators and Republicans threatened to push Espada out of the leadership picture. So it seems Espada made a gambit to make sure he would remain relevant. Espada says he did it all in the name of reform.

A little after 4 p.m, in one of the most majestically absurd, obtuse, fluff-filled press conferences anyone will be likely ever witness, the leadership positions were spelled out: Smith as president pro tem, Espada as majority leader, Sen. Jeffrey Klein as deputy majority leader and Sen. John Sampson as conference leader. There are reports that Smith may only hold his title until December.

There was a lot of hugging, shoulder patting, arm raising, talk of family, steel being forged in fires and swords. When Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. took to the podium things got even more absurd.

Diaz took the time in front of television cameras and reporters from across the state and perhaps the country to wish Irene Jay Liu of the Times Union a happy birthday. He didn’t stop there — he then led his fellow legislators and the press corps in a round of Happy Birthday To You. A staffer’s birthday was also acknowledged all while live satellite time was used up and the world watched.

Diaz then gloated about the assertion he made earlier in the week that the four amigos would take drastic action by Thursday if a deal wasn’t reached. He ominously noted that there were two options at play and told reporters not to ask him what the second option was.

The Albany Times Union is reporting that the second option would have seen the four amigos become part of the Republican conference. They reportedly demanded Republican Leader Sen. Dean Skelos give up his position of majority leader to Carl Kruger. Espada would have remained president pro tem. Skelos reportedly rejected the offer early Thursday.

When serious questions were asked about what Espada may have been promised for switching back, long-winded non-answers, were given. It is still not clear what kind of power he enjoys as majority leader. When someone raised a question about charges made against Espada by his Democratic colleagues, Espada talked of family problems such as other people probably experience.

When Glenn Blain of the Daily News asked about his credibility, Espada used his pulpit to lash out at the Daily News. “I need to be very clear, especially with the Daily News, God bless you all. You have created your own issues with credibility, but I won’t go there,” he said, and then insisted his motivation has always been reform. No one said exactly what reforms the Democrats are looking to make, or whether the rules changes made on June 8 would be recognized. Only 13 Democrats showed up to the conference. Sen. Neil Breslin was the only representative from upstate present.

Disdain for Espada and the deal that he made with the Democrats was clear in the rest of the Democratic conference and elsewhere in the halls of the Capitol.

“Progress?” I asked a representative of a good government group. “Yeah, if you consider progress having Sen. Pedro Espada as majority leader,” he replied throwing his hands in the air.

Republicans gave a press conference too. At theirs, Sen. Dean Skelos basically said he hoped that Democrats and Espada would focus on reform.

During his presser Gov. David Paterson threw some cold water on the Democrats love fest, pointing out that there are a number of Democratic senators who are not happy with the situation, and noted that the new arrangement is extremely fragile. \

Paterson didn’t mention that the Democrats have two indicted members, Monserrate and Kevin Parker and a newly minted majority leader who is under multiple investigations.

An extraordinary session was held earlier in the day, and Skelos, as he has done repeatedly, said he did not recognize the authority of the Demcorats to preside over the chamber and said that, despite recent news, he thought it was important to recognize the vote that made him majority leader on June 8.

The extraordinary session ended quickly. Democrats then gaveled back into regular session, repeating the pledge of allegiance and the moment of silence as they had done only moments before at the start of the extraordinary session. And then they stood at ease.

Democratic Sen. George Onarato was missing, and without him Democrats didn’t have the votes they needed for a quorum to begin session. Democrats have had a problem getting all the senators they need into the chamber on time at crucial moments. (See this year’s budget.)

But senators were talkative, and some Democrats who have been extremely critical of Espada seemed almost despondent that they had him back in their ranks. Sen. Liz Krueger, who previously made her distaste for Espada perfectly clear, said that she would “not have to vote” for him in a leadership position.

She refused to “predict the future” as to whether he would stay loyal to the Democrats. Another Democratic senator said simply, “Its best served cold.”

Also made clear is that while Democrats intend to move quickly on essential legislation that affects municipalities across the state they will not be voting on school governance any time soon.

Sen. Kevin Parker said he wanted to “enhance” school governance, and said that Republicans were likely to support the Assembly’s school governance bill because they “are in Bloomberg’s pocket.” He said he didn’t think there would be a rush to vote on the city’s sales tax hike, because “We already took a vote on that.”

Senators have different ideas about how long it will take to make up for the time they have spent fighting and and clawing each other. Parker said he felt he and his colleagues owe the people of New York about “two weeks work.” But he noted that with some hard work and long session days that time could be compacted. Senators and journalists alike seem more than a bit anxious to get out of Albany.

Richard Ravitch, who now seems officially to be the lieutenant governor — a restraining order against his appointment was lifted — stood outside talking to reporters. The case challenging the legality of his appointment will be heard tomorrow. Only hours before, Ravitch was the center of attention. But now Espada was back in front of the spotlight he seems to so cherish.

As the sunlight dimmed, Republicans and Democrats held conversations, probably about how the Senate will move forward. A list of active bills was handed out and everyone waited for Onarato to get back upstate from his doctors appointment. Some Democratic senators seemd to wallow in the fact that Espada was soon to be hteir new majority leader. “Let’s hope no one switches sides before they can make this official,” joked a Senate employee in an elevator.

And a little after 9:30 p.m. the Senate is back in session…

By on July 9, 2009, 8:57 pm
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