Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hanging On-By a Thread?

With the "leadership" meeting today run adrift, it looks more and more like Malcolm Smith may be coming up short. As the City Room blog reports: "Democrats won 32 of 62 seats in the State Senate on Tuesday, gaining control of the chamber for the first time in more than four decades.
But the leadership picture for the narrowly divided chamber remains unclear. Four Senate Democrats — Pedro Espada Jr. and Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, Carl Kruger of Brooklyn and Hiram Monserrate of Queens — recently formed their own independent caucus and have refused to say whom they will support."

Some things are hard, but repealing the laws of mathematics just isn't possible-unless you can inveigle one of the wild cards into the Smiith column; no easy task: "Members of the group have leaned rightward in the past; Mr. Diaz is a social conservative and a staunch opponent of gay marriage, while Mr. Kruger was an ally of Joseph L. Bruno, the longtime Republican majority leader who retired this summer."

But it's hard to pin an ideological label on the four holdouts. Monseratte has been a champion of Willets Point small businesses against mega development; and has been a vociferous opponent of eminent domain-as has Diaz, who has fought with the Alliance in the effort to keep a Key Food store alive on Bruckner Boulevard. And the Reverend's economics is decidedly left wing.

As for Kruger, the Brooklyn lawmaker was an early supporter of Freddy Ferrer-in 2001 as well as in 2005; not the most conservative thing to do in his pretty conservative (in New York terms) district. In fact, it is most productive to see the group as a proponent of Puerto Rican-Hispanic empowerment. And if the four are able to broker a leadership deal, it will likely yield a great deal of newly important Hispanic lawmakers and staff.

It's useful to point out in this regard, that while Kruger and the three amigos were supporting Ferrer's run for mayor in 2005, Smith and his patron-Rev. Floyd Flake-supported the Bloomberg re election bid; a move that obviates any charge of party disloyalty in the current leadership squabble.

In an effort to demonstrate its independence, the four senators met today to discuss strategy. As Liz highlights: "The four-man independent Senate caucus, (AKA the "Gang of Four") which is boycotting the meeting of their fellow Democrats called by Senate Majority Leading-in-Waiting Malcolm Smith in Albany this afternoon, met earlier today in Manhattan for a little con-fab of their own. So far, the caucus is sticking to its guns and refusing to announce its leadership preference, but also reveling in the fact that without the votes of its members, Smith can't become majority leader (unless, of course, he finds some friendly Republicans in the ZOPA)."

And Spin Cycle also weighs in: "Democrats switched two seats in the State Senate yesterday, and now control the body by a 32-30 margin. Or, do they? Much watching today and over the coming days will be devoted to the Gang of Four -- four NYC Senators, nominally Democrats, who have made clear their intention to conduct a bidding war for their services and, at least on paper, remain open to reinstating Dean Skelos as majority leader."

The Newsday blog also underscores the fact that Kruger is no DINO: "Later in the day, it should be noted, Kruger issued a separate release announcing that he was giving $50,000 to the Democratic state party and $50,000 to Gov. Paterson -- apparently to demonstrate that he was loyal to the party, just not necessarily to the Senate Democratic leadership."

All of this will continue to play out around the fiscal negotiations-with both Smith and Skelos playing budget cut chicken with the governor. Smith's public posturing around the cuts can't be helpful in solidifying any leadership position. As Liz B indicates: "Fresh off his big election night victory, Senate Majority Leader-in-Waiting Malcolm Smith today made no guarantees his conference will come up with a list of proposed cuts to meet Gov. Paterson’s Friday deadline, DN Capitol Bureau Chief Ken Lovett reports."

And the entire leadership issue may come down to a game of chicken-with the four wild cards holding out a dalliance with the Republicans as the ultimate leverage. Certainly the kvelling over the Dems triumph by van Capelle and the Gay Pride folks, doesn't help Smith's cause. Still, until someone else emerges, Smith is still the only one standing in front of the room. It may, however, turn out to be a short stint; despite being annointed one of Tuesday's "winners' by the Crain's Insider, and getting "vote of confidence" from Albany tone deaf Mayor Mike.

Spin Cycle gets the last word here: "There is both a defensive and an offensive aspect to the move. The four "independent" Dems are not on the tightest of terms with presumptive Majority Leader Smith, so they're warning him not to mess with them. They could be the tip of a spear that tries to push Smith out, now or later, as a price for giving the Dems control. They could actually be contemplating supporting Skelos (Kruger has headed a committee and caucused with the GOP). Or, they could just be positioning themselves as permanent powerbrokers."