Tuesday, June 9, 2009

GOP regains control of New York State Senate

As if the New York State legislature could not become more dysfunctional, two dissident Democrats joined Republicans who suddenly moved yesterday to topple state Sen. Malcolm Smith [D-Queens] as Senate Majority Leader.

State Sens. Pedro Espada, Jr. [D-Bronx] and Hiram Monserrate [D-Queens] caucused with their GOP colleagues across the aisle in what can almost certainly be described as a coup that resulted in state Sen. Dean Skelos [R-Rockville Centre] becoming Senate Majority Leader. Espada, who remains under investigation for alleged campaign irregularities and other allegations that stem from a non-profit he ran, and Monserrate, who was indicted earlier this year in connection with an alleged assault against his girlfriend, reportedly received backing from Upstate billionaire Tom Golisano. The fact remains, however, the coup immediately threw Albany into chaos as Democrats scrambled to make sense of the situation.

“This was an illegal and unlawful attempt to gain control of the Senate and reverse the will of the people who voted for a Democratic Majority," Smith's office said in a statement. "Nothing has changed, Senator Malcolm A. Smith remains the duly elected Temporary President and Majority Leader. The real Senate Majority is anxious to get back to governing, and will take immediate steps to get us back to work.”

Governor David Paterson blasted the coup, and the Working Families Party issued a statement that "strongly" condemned Espada and Monserrate's actions.

Yesterday's events certainly confirm New York's dubious distinction as having the country's most dysfunctional legislature. It continues to be an immense embarrassment to those who arguably naively look to Albany to advance the people's agenda--and one of the most contentious issues that remains before legislators is a bill to extend marriage to same-sex couples.

Smith has repeatedly indicated he did not have enough support among his members to ensure its passage in the state Senate. Skelos said he would allow his colleagues to "vote their conscience." It remains more uncertain than ever whether the proposed legislation will even go before the state Senate. Let's hope these lawmakers actually put aside their own politically-motivated and woefully selfish agenda and actually do something on behalf of New Yorkers who have been disenfranchised for far too long. At this point, however, that may a woefully naive proposition.

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