Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Four Square

As the day of decision on the make up of the state senate arrives, all eyes shift to a rather unexpected group of law makers-an independent caucus that holds the balance of power, owing to the narrowness of the expected margin of victory tonight. As the NY Times reports: "The fight for the Senate has been made all the more unclear by the shifting allegiances of two incumbent Democrats and two Democrats expected to win seats on Tuesday, who announced last week that they would form an independent caucus that might side with either party in a leadership battle between Dean G. Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader, and Malcolm A. Smith, the minority leader."

One of these senators, Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, has a principle that he seeks to uphold, one that any Democratic leader would find difficult to support: "One of the four planning the new caucus, Senator Rubén Díaz Sr., a Bronx Democrat, said on Monday that he would not vote for any leader who would allow a vote on legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in New York, something Mr. Smith supports. “I would not vote for anyone that would push for gay marriage,” Mr. Díaz said."

So, if we do the simple math here, the Dems need 33 votes to rise up. The Times does point out that Jeff Klein, one potential insurgent, seems to have pulled back from open insurrection: "But Mr. Smith appears to have headed off — for now — a leadership challenge from his deputy, Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, an avid fund-raiser who has made little secret of his ambitions. Mr. Klein said that when Democrats gather for a scheduled meeting in Albany on Wednesday, he will be offering Mr. Smith his full support. “I intend to support Malcolm Smith as majority leader, and hopefully I’ll be the deputy,” Mr. Klein said. “I hope he’ll give me the opportunity to nominate him as the next majority leader.”

But doesn't this make Klein's initial statements rather curious? And, while the trial balloon from the Post's Fred Dicker yesterday appears to have lost its air, perhaps it did fulfill its purpose; because if the independents stall the rise of Mr. Malcolm Smith, Klein has positioned himself as the best likely alternative-his statements of fealty today notwithstanding.

But all of this could be rendered moot if Republicans hold serve; or if Dems sweep into a large majority. If, however, a deadlock does occur it's unlikely that the issue of senate leadership will be resolved in anything resembling short order.


Crain's Insider (subscription) is also reporting on the independent caucus-with a lot of anonymous sniping from some disgruntled folks: "The four partners can threaten to elect a Republican majority leader, giving them negotiating power. It might be the only way for Kruger to keep the committee chairmanship he got from the GOP. But one insider says only Kruger and Espada would really vote with the Republicans."

This, of course, disregards the Diaz position cited above-and overlooks the possibility that there could be a Democratic alternative to Smith arising from the Caucus' mischief. And what to make of the following? "The caucus of free agents could also prove unable to stick together because of clashing agendas. “This is a club that by mere definition means you can’t be a club,” says the insider, citing a lack of loyalty as a criterion for membership. The source says Kruger is “smarter than the other three combined” and “would sell [them] down the river in a heartbeat.”

Someone's trying to sow dissension-and it looks to us as if fear is the motivating factor: "“Monserrate’s political future is more dependent on some Democratic loyalty than Kruger’s or Espada’s is,” the insider says. “Diaz has been there [five years] and hasn’t rented himself out [to the GOP] yet.” We will soon see.