State Senate stuck in limbo

The coalition of Republicans and dissident Democrats who sought to grab control of the state Senate

The coalition of Republicans and dissident Democrats who sought to grab control of the state Senate this week failed to hold its promised first session Wednesday but insisted it still has a 32-vote majority that it claims could grow by as many as 10 more Democrats.

But patience with the political drama was wearing thin in Albany, where Monday’s apparent power switch has stopped Senate action and threatened weeks of legislation approved in committees run by the Democratic conference.

Democratic conference spokesman Austin Shafran said Wednesday night that the conference will be in state Supreme Court in Albany today seeking an order to block the power grab and keep the coalition from holding session.

Gov. David Paterson called on Senate Democrats to unlock the chamber and take up important legislation before the scheduled end of the session June 22. Paterson said the Senate power struggle has “humiliated the process, even by Albany standards.

“This is getting a little ridiculous,” Paterson said as he pledged to work with whoever wins. “They’ve got to act like adults.”

Sen. Pedro Espada, the Democratic president of the Senate and one of the breakaway Democrats, insisted the coalition is stronger than ever. He said he respects those senators wrestling with the decision of whether to join. He made the comments in a news conference that started two hours later than scheduled, as Espada and Republicans huddled privately but said there was no wavering of support.

“There is no changing of the mind,” Espada said. “The vote that was taken will hold. The issue is, by how many more will we grow — and we’ll know tomorrow — but we have 32.”

Republican Sen. Dean Skelos was at Espada’s side at the news conference with Sen. Hiram Monserrate, the other dissident.

None answered questions about court action promised by the Democratic conference to block the power switch.

“I’m having dinner with about 10 Democrats who are in a position to join us,” Espada said. “If this is going to be the house that respects all 62 members, we might as well start right now.”

The coalition said it will hold its first legislative day today, sidelining Democrats who took the majority in January for the first time in decades.

Republicans and the dissident Democrats secretly engineered a parliamentary power play Monday, apparently ousting the Senate leader and taking control of the chamber. Espada and Monserrate joined with the Republicans to form a coalition that holds a 32-30 majority, an unusual collection of upstate and suburban senators with Espada, a Bronx Democrat facing elections violations, and Monserrate, a Queens Democrat facing a charge of assaulting his girlfriend.

Democrats had locked the chamber and refused to open it for the coalition.

Issues like gay marriage, mayoral control of New York City schools that expires at the end of the month, a potential spending cap and property tax legislation are on hold until the Senate gets back to work, Paterson said.

Espada said the coalition plans to bring the bill to legalize same-sex marriage to the Senate floor as early as next week. Sen. Malcolm Smith, who was elected majority leader in January by the Democratic conference, has kept the bill from the floor because he said it didn’t have enough support to pass.

Espada said he has the key to the chamber — presenting it to reporters from his shirt pocket — saying nothing will stand in the way of today’s planned session. He wouldn’t say how he got it and the Democratic conference claimed the key was acquired “illegitimately.”

“We’ll have a beer,” Espada told a reporter, “and I’ll talk about how I got the key. But I got the key.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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