Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Follow the Leaders?

Yesterday's aborted legislative session didn't receive high parks for any visible demonstration of political leadership. Even Governor Paterson, who did stake out some sane positions on the budget, wasn't treated kindly by a press that saw his calls for cooperation from the assembly and the senate fall on deaf ears. As Bill Hammond points out this morning: "There were winners and losers in Tuesday's Albany budget battle but the biggest loser was you - THE TAXPAYER. By doing nothing, the Legislature put basic services like schools, public safety and mass transit in jeopardy of even deeper and more damaging cuts - and greatly increased the likelihood of economy-sapping tax hikes to close the gap."

The governor also looked weak, according to a number of Albany observers: "GOV. PATERSON was another loser: Although he held the high ground on substance, Paterson looked weak and ineffectual in his first major defeat since taking over for Eliot Spitzer in March. Instead of wielding his executive clout to pressure lawmakers, he folded like an MTA map." Fred Dicker agrees: "Paterson himself had the pained look of a promising student who first dazzles his teacher and then flunks his big exam."

Of course all of the other leaders received their share of criticism, but Hammond singles out Malcolm Smith: "SENATE MINORITY LEADER MALCOLM SMITH (D-Queens) was another loser. Smith, who intends to take over as majority leader in less than two months, looked unready for the big leagues. He went from delivering unconvincing talking points with a glazed expression to blowing his stack at Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco (R-Schenectady). Granted, he was in the impossible position of explaining why he was too chicken to vote on the governor's budget cuts. Still, successful leaders must be more convincing defending the indefensible."

Smith, who is already busy preparing for his coronation, has still been unable to corral dissident Democrats to his side-and one of those rebels, Pedro Espada from the Bronx, is receiving kudos from El Diario for his calls for Hispanic empowerment. While another holdout is under siege from gay activists, an attack that will only serve to harden his opposition to Smith.

All of which raises questions about Smith's abilities to lead-and the cries of racism in a vote recount in the Padavan senate race by the very same Queens Democrats who bolstered the minority leader's rise, only reinforces suspicion that the whole enterprise isn't ready for prime time; especially when charges of racism and homophobia are the only apparent substance of the rallying cry for a Smith leadership.

What's needed from our political leaders are common sense fiscal solutions that rein in the size and scope of government, and make New York a better place to live and do business in. The new senate leader has to have both vision and courage; and be able to be a partner for the governor in these most dire of times. That leaders wasn't present in Albany yesterday.