Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Senate Power Struggle Looms

The Obama Express has blown through the Empire State and has given the Dems a two seat majority in the state senate-something that hasn't happened in over forty years. The newly found majority, however, doesn't resolve the question of which person will actually be running the show in New York's upper chamber since, as we have been commenting, Kruger and the three amigos, remain the leadership wild card.

In this morning's NY Times the issue is reported on squarely: "But the elation felt by party leaders Tuesday night was tempered by lingering questions about the allegiance of four Democratic senators from New York City who have so far refused to rule out crossing party lines to support Senator Dean G. Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, as Senate majority leader. The four Democrats — Pedro Espada Jr. and Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx, Carl Kruger of Brooklyn and Hiram Monserrate of Queens — have said they might not back Mr. Smith.In a statement issued late Tuesday night, Mr. Skelos stopped short of admitting defeat, suggesting that he and his fellow Republicans would make an aggressive play to the wavering Democrats."

So Smith, whose support in his own conference isn't rock solid, may be on shaky grounds-and the four free agents now can be in a position to become the fulcrum of any power arrangement. As Liz B reported yesterday, the so-called Independent Caucus is counseling discretion. In a prepared statement, here's its position: "As an independent caucus of State Senators concerned with the welfare of our communities and of all New Yorkers, we encourage all of our colleagues in the Senate to approach the next several weeks with restraint, deep deliberation and the recognition that the decisions we make today will affect future generations," declared the four Democrats (at least as far as party enrollment is concerned)."

In all likelihood, Senator Diaz will not support any leader who can't uphold the traditionalist's opposition to gay marriage. If he maintains that position-and stays neutral for argument's sake-than the Democratic majority is 31-30 (assuming the Padavan narrow win holds up). This leaves the other three senators as the ultimate wild card: "The premise here is that the four self-styled independents - at least of whom, Diaz Sr., has made it pretty clear he's more likely to remain neutral than vote for anyone for leader - only have clout if the Democrat-Republican split is close. If the Democrats open up a very wide lead, the swing voters won't matter."

However the leadership battle turns, all of Albany is faced with monumental challenges-something that all of the newly empowered Dems recognize. As the Times points out: "With the Democrats winning control of the Senate, some of them acknowledged Tuesday night that their party will bear sole responsibility for the heavy burden of taming and running New York’s traditionally dysfunctional state government. “There will be no excuses,” said Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Democrat who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County. “We’re going be expected to take all those ideas we’ve talked about and make them happen. People are expecting us to change paradigms.”

And given the state of the state's economy, all of the electeds leaders may be holding out a proverbial tin cup, saying in this case, "Brother can you paradigm." Particularly so, since the successful Democratic wave was surely aided and abetted by the Working Families Party-a group with an aggressive left wing agenda that contrasts sharply with Governor Paterson's newly minted fiscal conservatism.

As the Times Union underscores: "Needless to say, if the Democrats pull this out today, they’ll owe a heavy debt to the WFP. If Democrats control the Senate, it will be interesting to see how Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith negotiates his commitment to Gov. David Paterson (who he may need to support his continued leadership) to cut spending and not raise taxes and the WFP’s desire for a progressive agenda."

TU assumes. of course, that Smith survives; but whoever becomes leader will have to tight rope walk between the WFP's agenda and that of the governor's. This opens the way for a reform leadership agenda that transcends a narrow ideological world view and embraces bipartisan problem solving-something that the independents have been promoting. This appears to be a internecine battle that will not resolve quickly.