Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Senate Leadership Stasis

The legislature went back to Albany yesterday-and the state senate appears no closer to resolving its leadership stalemate; but our sources say that the resolution still could go either way. The ongoing question is whether Malcolm Smith has the requisite moxie to make the deal-or will Skelos sneak in.

For his part, Smith keeps getting whacked for his role in the failed deal of the other week. In Spin Cycle, John Riley ridicules Smith for his hiring of a new spokesperson: "We notice that Malcolm Smith, right, who went from making a deal with his most disloyal members to get control of the Senate to reneging on the deal, denouncing it and pretending he never made it last week and now faces rumblings in his own conference and harsh criticism in the press, has found an answer to his problems: Hire a new spokesman."

The opprobrium here follows on the heels of the blistering attack launched against Malcolm by the Daily News' Bill Hammond: "IT'S LOOKING more and more like Malcolm Smith simply doesn't have what it takes to lead the New York State Senate. An effective Senate majority leader must command the loyalty of his members and the respect of his enemies. He must exercise sharp political judgment tempered by a sense of honor. He must be able to explain his actions clearly, persuasively and honestly. He must drive hard bargains, but negotiate in good faith. Above all, he must never break a promise. In the weeks since Election Day - when his Democrats won their first Senate majority in 43 years - Smith has done none of the above."

Which doesn't mean that Smith couldn't become more of a work in progress-and with some help, put a deal together. But the clock is ticking, and in the shark tank of Albany, the swimming is extremely risky. And Smith has a dug himself a deep hole: "How badly did Smith shred his own credibility? Let us count the ways: In one fell swoop, he broke his word, negotiated in bad faith, got snookered at the bargaining table, showed poor ethical and political judgment, burned his loyal allies and lost the respect of his enemies. How can he possibly command respect as a leader after that?"

He does, however, have one thing going for him: the lack of any viable candidate to step up and effectively challenge his leadership. So in the absence of a Republican surge, he just might be, warts and all, the only option open.