Even by Albany standards

Friday, June 12, 2009
I don't have a whole lot of commentary for this one but I think it's necessary to bear witness to the reindeer games going on this week in the New York state Senate. The thrust of it is that two renegade state senators have flipped the majority body upside down and bogged down the last scheduled week of the session with drama and intrigue. This last week of the session also happens to be the most important week in the legislature as the body reputedly does 30-40% of it's work during this important week. In addition to this, NY Governor David Patterson has set a state gay marriage vote in the lap of the legislature, to be voted on, yea or nay, before the session is over. But instead of earning their paychecks this week, this is what has happened...

On Monday, June 8, 2009, Democrat Senators Pedro Espada Jr. (Bronx) and Hiram Monserrate (Queens) participate in a leadership vote for the state Senate, joining with the Republican minority to form a brand new majority and naming Sen. Espada the new Senate president. They say they are not switching parties but merely voting for leadership reform. Watching this happen the Democrats try to adjourn to shut the leadership vote down, but fail. Blind-sided and probably embarrassed, the "former" Democratic majority split, leaving the Senate floor, locking the doors and shutting off the lights. Then they went to their lawyers to see if a judge couldn't give them their majority back. Here is a blow-by-blow of the Senate proceedings on Monday.

Governor Patterson comes out against the Senate and their shenanigans telling them to "act like adults" and calling the whole process "ridiculous" and "despicable" and saying they they had humiliated government "even by Albany standards" which is evidently a thing people say here in the Empire State. While he initially decided to recognize the former Senate majority leader, Malcolm Smith, he said later on Wednesday that he wanted the Senators to get back in the chamber, take a vote, and he would go with whoever they decided. He admits that he has no legal power to make things happen in this dispute. Based on communications between Governor Patterson and the state legislature, I detect that he doesn't get along too well with them, but he's no favorite of theirs either. He has been bopping them on the heads about the budget all year (and ever since he's been governor for that matter).

As of yesterday, the NY Senate has been holding sessions with 30 Republicans and the 2 Democrat defectors (dems from the former majority don't even show up), although Monserrate seems to be on the fence about his decision still. The new majority has had trouble keeping him in the chamber and it is uncertain whether he is really committed to this new coalition.

What I find spectacular is that every article you can find about this fiasco is sure to mention the iffy reputations of the two defecting Democrats. It is often announced that Senator Espada has had trouble keeping his hands out of charity funds in order to finance his political campaigns and Monserrate was arrested last year for slashing his girlfriend in the face with a broken glass. So, not exactly the classiest of characters participating in this coup, but I wonder if these two are representative of the rest of the folks working the Senate in Albany. Governor Patterson's "even by Albany standards" quote seems very appropriate.

It is also remarkable that Espada, as the newly elected Senate President, is next in line for Governor Patterson's job if anything bad should happen to him. Patterson himself seems to break the mold of a NY politician, relatively clean compared to Elliot Spitzer, his predecessor, who resigned in the wake of a call-girl scandal, and Pedro Espada Jr., the embezzling turncoat Senator who could be the governor in a heartbeat.

My larger question is: what the heck is going on in state governments? I mean, this is typically the resource pool for the manpower we get at the national leadership level, right? Not too long ago the President himself was a state senator (who himself attributes his election to the Illinois Senate to a scandal and some luck).
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. I'm an outsider to NY politics so this all seems very amusing, but when I reflect on the state where I was born, we elected the Terminator in a contest that also included celebrity Gary Coleman and about a thousand other candidates in a news-making circus election season. But I also have to reflect on Governor Rick Perry's antics from Texas with his recent comments about state secession and the like.

What in the world is going on?


chelsey lora said...

Okay, Politics isn't really my bag, but you are a great writer. You could easily write for any of the big news stations, seriously.
I very much enjoy reading your observations.

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