Thursday, December 11, 2008

Laughing Stock

According to Spin Cycle's John Riley, the idea, floated by Malcolm Smith, that the failed deal with senate dissidents was a blow for civil rights, is a "Big Joke." As he points out: "In a curious attempt at spin, Malcolm Smith -- with help from NARAL Pro-Choice New York -- is trying to cast himself as a hero of the civil rights movement after his conference rebelled against a deal he (with Paterson's participation) cut to bring the Gang of Three into the fold, forcing him to backtrack and, essentially, renege. Smith, in his statement (after the jump), says, "We are suspending negotiations, effective immediately, because to do so otherwise would reduce our moral standing...." and adds that, "real reform cannot and should not ever include limiting the civil rights of any New Yorkers."

The effort at redefining reality is a perfect fit for a Spin Cycle blog-but Riley's not buying any of it: "The reality: Smith was forced to back off because his conference thought the idea of giving rewards to disloyal Dems was offensive, because other conference members feared loss of status, and because Pedro Espada has been dogged by ethics issues that made his promotion somewhat troublesome. Smith engaged in negotiations that he shouldn't have, struck a deal he shouldn't have, and made a mess. Anything else is spin."

This is all underscored in this morning's NY Times: "Mr. Kruger and Mr. Espada said they had been assured by Mr. Smith that he had the support of his Democratic caucus to make a deal. “I asked him specifically whether he wanted 24 or 48 hours as a return policy,” Mr. Kruger said. “He said ‘absolutely not.’ He said he was very comfortable with it. That was sanctified not by a handshake, but by a prayer service by Reverend Díaz.”

Malcolm's reaching for anything that will divert attention from his own failure to lead. His epiphany resulted from getting cold water poured on the deal he had blessed as one he could sell to his supprters. As Pedro Espada told the Capitol Confidential: “Throughout this process Malcolm Smith has proved to be the not ready for prime time leader,” Espada said. “I will not sit in the room with him again unless he’s got the total support of his own conference.”

Espada goes on to tell Daily Politics: "I think other Democrats have to fill the leadership vacuum that Malcolm has created by defaulting on his responsibilities," Espada continued. "Malcolm simply was not ready for prime time. He lied and simply cannot be trusted."

And he goes on to clearly dramatize Smith's basic failing: "Espada said he asked Smith during negotiations last week whether he had the authority to make deals for his conference and was told he did and received assurances from Smith that he did. That, of course, proved to be not so true, as the rank-and-file later balked at the deal Smith had cut, saying he went too far in giving away power."

And is there, perhaps, a bipartisan future for the senate? Apparently Espada believes so: "We're not going to keep the stalemate going too long," Espada said. "I think there will be a bipartisan effort by Democrats who can no longer work with Malcolm, and it's not just the three of us, and Republicans who want to do the people's business and get on with this."

Which might also be Smith's ploy as well: "Now that Malcolm Smith has forging a united Democratic majority under his leadership, look for the party to redouble its efforts to recruit defectors from the Republican side. State Senator Joe Robach - who used to be a Democrat - could be a target, as well as State Senator Jim Alesi, who was reported earlier as a possibility."

This, of course, is problematic in the extreme-and why would the Republicans defect if they have three dissident Dems as possible partners for a new majority? As Politicker points out: "On the opposite side, both Senators Carl Kruger and Pedro Espada Jr. have ties to the Republicans. Espada flipped parties in 2002 (and was voted out) and Kruger was the only Democrat to serve as a committee chairman when the chamber was controlled by Republicans."

If this is going to be resolved, it's hard to see how Governor Paterson can avoid a hands on approach. As the Times makes clear: " leaves the Senate mired in turmoil as the state faces perhaps its most severe fiscal crisis in decades." The timid majority seems unable to take the plunge to insure new leadership-or to at least renegotiate the old deal; the governor's move is awaited by all of the players.

And the efforts of Smith to redefine reality, highlighted this morning in the NY Daily News, by accusing Espada of trying to be greedy, is simply incredulous-the deal was agreed to and Espada never tried to extract a penny of stipend money; it is simply Smith's feeble effort to face save, when he is really in desperate need of a leadership lift: "Smith said the talks in recent days have been less about reform "and more about self interest and personal aggrandizement." In particular, Smith said Senator-elect Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), was pushing for a stipend to become majority leader even though it was agreed the job wouldn't include extra money." Really? What talks? These were concluded last week with an agreement; and Smith has only been talking to his own colleagues, or perhaps himself.

That being said, Smith may have permanently crippled himself-and the governor needs to avoid having his own future tied to this political albatross. The editorial in the NY Post this morning dramatizes this point-even though it goes to great lengths to criminalize almost any logrolling or political negotiation: "That Gov. Paterson chose to demean himself and his office by participating publicly in the sordid deal-making shows a remarkable lack of judgment. And his failure, once engaged, to effect a lasting settlement demonstrates an appalling shortage of political skills. Smith, meanwhile, has committed an unforgivable political blunder: He has rendered himself totally ridiculous, and in public to boot. Paterson isn't far behind. How do the two of them propose actually to govern when the time comes - if, in Smith's case, it ever does come? Actually, it shouldn't."

The leadership vacuum is as wide as the Grand Canyon here; and the longer this festers, the more the governor's credibility will erode. The Post and others lose sight of the reform package that was part of the negotiation-and it was the unwillingness of the Democratic conference to give up their own prerogatives, that has sunk this agreement.