The governor has opened up a certain can of worms with his accusation that senate rebels were being selfish for their failure to support Malcolm Smith. As the Politicker reported yesterday, this didn't sit well with Senator Diaz, who told Azi (who got the meeting dates somewhat confused) that the governor was actually supportive of the Gang when they met right after the election: “He could have stopped this and said, ‘It’s Malcolm.’ He didn’t say that,” said Diaz. “He expressed dissatisfaction of Malcolm and said politically, it’s better for him if there was a Hispanic” as majority leader."
Now the governor took umbrage with this and denied any complicity: "A spokesman for the governor, Errol Cockfield, strongly denied Diaz’s account, of the meeting, or that the governor expressed any criticism of Smith. “That’s completely false. The governor said no such thing to Sen. Diaz,” wrote Cockfield in an email. The governor has also criticized the group, following the meeting, calling them selfish."
But another of the Gang, Senator Pedro Espada, had this account: "Another attendee at the meeting, State Senator-elect Pedro Espada of the Bronx, said the governor was asked, hypothetically, whether he’d support a qualified Hispanic candidate for Majority Leader. “And the answer was ’Absolutely yes.’ We did not want to focus on the shortcomings of Malcolm Smith,” said Espada. He went on to say that during the meeting, there was “not any denunciation of Malcolm Smith.” But Espada said Paterson did not try to stop the group from continuing their search. “There was zero, I repeat, zero effort to stop us.”
It's probably not the best of times for Paterson to get embroiled with an internecine fight in the legislature-not with the almost universal condemnation of his budget cuts that we're hearing from all over the political map. And on that front, here's what Diaz fired away at the governor with: "Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who has been the subject of Democratic derision for being a member of the Gang of Three and refusing to pledge loyalty to Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, is slamming Gov. David Paterson for proposing budget cuts that Diaz believes "will directly hurt the most needy communities."
And Diaz wasn't finished challenging the governor's own Democratic credentials: "We as Democrats have fought for these services for our communities, and that is why I can’t, I shouldn’t, and I will not give my vote to my Democratic colleagues in the State Senate to approve these cuts proposed by Governor Paterson which will directly affect the residents of my community," Diaz Sr. said. "We are not blind or deaf to the fiscal reality of the City, State and Nation. However, every time there is a fiscal issue, we cannot continue to balance the budget on that backs of the Hispanic, African-American and the neediest communities of the State."
So in calling the three senators "selfish," the governor was violating the political Hippocratic Oath of, "Do no harm." This is another fight he didn't need to take on when he'll be taking "incoming" from all sides. Diaz's retort seems designed to place the governor-at least ideologically-squarely in a Republican/Conservative camp: As a Democrat, I have fought for more and better services for our senior citizens, I have been the only Democrat, who in defense of our children’s education, has asked publicly for the resignation of Chancellor Joel Klein and Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, I have fought for and brought affordable housing developments to my senatorial district."
So now everyone waits the Padavan recount, and if the senator's vote margin holds, chaos is almost guaranteed to follow; with a leadership stalemate threatening to cripple any government action. The governor's "selfish" statement was impolitic at best, ans possibly disastrous given current circumstances.