Thursday, November 06, 2008

State Senate Silly Season Meets Latino Issues

The uproar over the battle for leadership in the New York State Senate is getting silly-and disinformation abounds. In the TU's Capitol Confidential yesterday, for instance, there was a citation from the AP's Mike Gormley that deserved the Pulitzer Prize for fiction: "The four Democratic senators met Wednesday with GOP leaders who hold the Senate majority at least until Jan. 1, according to Republicans and Democrats familiar with the meeting. The meeting was to discuss how the four might serve the GOP and what’s in it for them should they defect, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because leaders wouldn’t confirm the talks."

Never happened; and in fact, at the time of the supposed meeting the four were actually meeting with Governor Paterson. But the piece is instructive because it shows the extent to which the four hold outs from the Smith coronation have instigated fear and loathing in the Democratic caucus. Anonymous sources freely disparage the four, while leaving us to observe that the gratuitous nastiness diverts attention from questioning the over all qualifications of everyone in the upper chamber; a case of glass houses for sure.

What's interesting in all of this is the extent to which Latino character assassination seems to be fair game to some. It's worth noting that when the senate minority leadership was up for grabs a couple of years ago, Brooklyn's county leader Vito Lopez advanced Senator Marty Dilan's candidacy-only to watch it get scuttled by certain members of the Brooklyn delegation who went with Smith rather than Dilan-get the picture?

But the AP's Gormley gets the following right: "The fight for control of New York’s Senate that Democrats thought they won in historic fashion Tuesday stretched into Wednesday and could go on for weeks with a group of four maverick New York City lawmakers essentially holding the key to the balance of power." And it's past time to acknowledge the extent to which New York's Hispanic politicians have been the step children of the minority empowerment movement. The treatment that Dilan received, is being mirrored today by scurrilous anonymous sniping of the three Latinos in the independent caucus.

The NY Times hits the Latino empowerment issue squarely: "Three of the four holdouts are Latino legislators who feel Latinos have been underrepresented in leadership roles in city and state government and want to press the issue in the Senate. Mr. Díaz said the four men, who have formed an independent political caucus, may put off making a decision on whom to back for leader until the new legislative session begins in January. “There’s a concern that we have a black president, a black governor and we have a concern that we have to be sharing power,” said Mr. Díaz."

This becomes extremely sensitive, as the state approaches its reapportionment in 2010. Without any Latino leadership, its not gonna be easy to maximize this group's legitimate political power. Monserate's comments to the Times alludes to the over all issue: "Mr. Monserrate said in a statement that “we must continue to fight for representation for our diverse communities,” adding, “our community does not have a single state or citywide elected leader in any legislative body.”

So, if the group can stay together against the self serving snipers, there's a good chance that they can emerge with real influence-whoever the eventual leader turns out to be. Cohesion, however, as Liz B points out, ain't easy, but the numbers work in their favor: "The Republicans view Espada and Sen. Carl Kruger, who is the only Democrat to hold a committee chairmanship in the GOP-controlled Senate, as their best bets in this longshot bipartisan bid to hold the majority leadership. Diaz Sr. has indicated he could remain neutral in the leadership vote, which means it would take 31 votes, not 32 to make the leader. Actually, it would only take the majority of whoever happens to be in the chamber at the time of the vote, so the Democrats better be careful while walking near the Capitol closets and bathrooms on that fateful day."

A very high stakes game of chicken indeed! And to the strong willed go the spoils here.