With Malcolm Smith floundering for a leadership foothold, the NY Post's Fred Dicker throws him a Paterson lifeline-but it looks as if there's an anchor attached to it. Dicker avers that the governor believes that Smith can rise to the top spot in the senate through what amounts to immaculate conception: "GOV. PATERSON has shifted gears and now believes that the bitter battle for state Senate control can end with an agreement excluding the renegade Democrats known as the "Gang of Three," the Post has learned."
Dicker goes further to argue that all of a sudden Paterson believes that the deal itself maybe illegal: "He's even told associates that he fears that Gang of Three members have made demands bordering on the illegal - especially in light of the Illinois scandal involving Gov. Rod Blagojevich."
OK, so how does this new deal get done-and what's the price? "Paterson, who helped negotiate an initial agreement with Gang members earlier this month only to see it fall apart last week, told associates he's hoping current Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) will negotiate a final deal with Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) making Smith the new majority leader in January, at which point Democrats will hold a 32-30 majority."
Dean Skelos, who the governor has expressed an open distaste for, is now going to do a deal to elevate the hapless Smith (and what happened to the Bill Hammond column in yesterday's NY Daily News that excoriated Smith but was never posted on the website?) to the head of the senate? What's in it for Skelos?
But, according to Dicker, the reason in the shift lies with the fact that the three dissidents simply can't be trusted: "The main reason for Paterson's strategy shift is that he, Smith, and other Democratic and Republican senators have concluded that none of the Gang members - Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn and Sen. Ruben Diaz and Sen.-elect Pedro Espada, both of The Bronx - can be trusted."
What a load of crap! The interesting rub here is, if the governor's aides are spinning this tale, than what does it mean that the governor is burning the phone lines to the distrusted ones? In fact, it is Malcolm in the Middle who cannot be trusted to negotiate a deal that can be lived up to; and if the governor is seen to midwife a deal that bypasses a leadership post for Hispanics, where will that put him in 2010 with a community that sees itself as shortchanged?
Of course, who knows where-or from what-Dicker's getting his source material from. As Liz Benjamin tells us in her column this morning-contradicting the Dickerings: "The Gang of Three saga continues. Now that the Senate leadership stalemate is back in high gear after the death of the rebels' deal with Minority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), a Republican lawmaker says the GOP is the last best hope for the renegades. "It's likely they will end up with nothing," Sen. George Winner of Elmira said of the gang. "Their only ability to save themselves really from complete back-bench material is to vote with the Republicans."
Kruger, for his part, believes that the governor's budget crisis will necessitate a quick resolution to the leadership fight-and Smith is denying any talks with Republicans: "Sen. Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat and the Gang of Three ringleader, called Winner "a voice in the wilderness," and insisted "negotiations are ongoing" between himself and fellow detractors Sen.-elect Pedro Espada Jr. and Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. Kruger also said the "urgency" of the state's ever-worsening budget crisis will likely bring the leadership fight to a "quick conclusion." Smith spokesman Austin Shafran said he could not confirm any talks between Smith and the Gang of Three. He also insisted Smith has not reached out to any GOP senators seeking the three votes he needs to become leader."
This thing may actually finish up soon-because if it doesn't the fiscal mess will worsen, as stalemate prevents curative political action. It should be fascinating in Albany this week.