By Pamela Gentry, Senior Political Analyst
June 11, 2009 – Republicans seized control of the New York Senate this week and may have delivered a crushing blow to the state’s first African-American governor, who had hoped to run for the state’s top job in 2010.
The floor of the Senate erupted and the live television feed went black when the Republicans seized control in a coup-like power struggle with Democrats. The Dems then locked the chamber’s 15-foot brass gates, hid the keys and forced the GOP rebels to meet outside of the chamber.
All of this drama unfolded with just a few weeks remaining in the legislative session. New York Gov. David Paterson said, “Once again, Albany’s dysfunction has raised its ugly head.” The pandemonium all began on Monday. “This is despicable,” Paterson said.
So what brought about such drastic actions by the two fighting factions?
The Republicans complained that the Democrats were planning to raise taxes and increase spending, so 30 Republicans in the Senate pulled off the coup by luring two of the least savory Democrats in the 62-member chamber to their side of the aisle. They even went so far as to install one of the turncoats as the new Senate president.
The two Democrates who jumped ship have problems of their own: Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr, of the Bronx, the newly-installed Senate President, is under investigation over thousands in fines for violations in the health care clinics he operates.
His colleague, Sen. Hiram Monserrate of Queens, who also jumped to the other side of the aisle, has been charged with slashing his girlfriend’s face with a broken glass. If he’s convicted, he’ll lose his seat in the Senate.
The Dems might just want these two to stay with the GOP.
Back to what happened….
This plan was the brainchild of billionaire B. Thomas Golisano, owner of hockey’s Buffalo Sabres. He bankrolled the Democrats’ victory in the Senate last fall, but grew angry earlier this spring over Majority Leader Malcolm Smith’s support of a budget that would increase spending and raise taxes on the wealthy.
The now-ousted Democrats say all of these actions and maneuvers are illegal. The Dems are seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the Republicans from taking power, and plan to boycott the chamber in the meantime.
While the Democrats’ “ousted leadership” say they are ready to get to work, Austin Shafran, a spokesman for them is calling foul. “[We are] fully prepared to go back to the people’s work, but will not enter the chamber to be governed by unlawful rule.”
As the drama continues, the governor could find himself in a tough spot. The state could again end up in legislative gridlock and that could reflect poorly on Paterson. If a recent The New York Times poll is any indication, Paterson is in trouble already. A poll of more than 1,000 New Yorkers found only 21 percent have a favorable view of the governor and seven out of 10 respondents said he didn’t deserve the job as governor.
I’m sure this situation isn’t going to help.