Saturday, December 13, 2008

Smith's Slippery Slope

After walking away from a deal that he personally negotiated-and obfuscating the reasons why; along with aspersions against the folks he shook hands with-Malcolm Smith appears to be playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship. As the NY Daily News reports: "Embattled Democratic leader Malcolm Smith Friday dismissed talk of a plot to oust him, saying he expects to become state Senate majority leader next month...For that to happen, Democrats must coax enough Republicans to switch sides because three dissident Dems still remain staunchly opposed to Smith."

So after negotiating in bad faith Smith may try to pass the dissidents by, speeding, as it were, around a steep curve on a winding mountainside road. The chances of him crashing and burning have just increased exponentially: ""He currently has the support of 29 Democrats from the conference and expects he'll have the support of 32 members of the state Senate by the Jan. 7 leadership vote," said one Smith aide. Smith aides said two Republicans have discussed possibly switching to the Democratic side, though lame-duck Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos insists he has the support of his entire conference."

Looks like a game of chicken to us; and as the NY Post tells us: "State Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith emerged yesterday from another closed-door meeting with his conference promising a Democratic majority in the Senate in January, possibly by enlisting Republican allies to counter resistance from three dissident Democrats."

Smith apparently is throwing down the gauntlet in a chesty manner: "Smith, of Queens, said he would have 32 supporters in January, enough to elect him majority leader. He wouldn't say how many would be Democrats and how many would be Republicans." What does all of this say to the three hold outs?

To us, it seems to be a clear message: either come on board riding coach, or the train will leave without you-first class is no longer an option. Which is a long way from last week-and the level of distrust has been ratcheted up. As the News reminds us: "Smith's guarantee of the Democrats taking control of the Senate is a far cry from earlier this week. At that time, he said his members were ready to remain in the minority rather than cave in to the demands of the renegade Democrats, dubbed the Gang of Three. Smith struck a deal at the start of the week, when he promised the dissidents leadership positions and various other enticements. He aborted the deal Wednesday after backlash from his members."

The governor has his work cut out for him-at least if he really wants to have Democratic control of the senate. And, contrary to what Capitol Confidential opines, he may be running out of time: " As for the “Gang of Three” - letting them sit out in the wilderness for a few weeks may be useful in terms of leverage - they’ve played their hand with both the Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats. Watching them negotiate their way with the various sides will give the governor better information about the price of their support. As the old Irving Berlin song goes, “Anything you can do, I can do better” - the governor and Senate Dems can pretty much match and beat anything the Senate Republicans offer."

We'll see. But given the Smith posture, we think the governor doesn't have the luxury to simply take a wait and see attitude. As Spin Cycle cogently points out: "We don't necessarily agree. If the Republicans, for example, offer the same deal that the Democrats just agreed to and then walked away from, the Democrats can hardly do yet another 180 and agree to it again."