Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Three Ring Circus

The leadership drama in the state senate has become so intense that-we kid you not-even some reporters are feeling that Roberto Duran feeling: "No mas!" It's getting so that it's all too much to absorb-beginning today with yesterday's Smith press conferences. As the City Room blog reports: " Malcolm A. Smith, the Queens Democrat who appears set to become president of the State Senate next month, baffled the press this morning by calling a news conference, then hurriedly walking out of the room shortly after it started."

It was definitely a Satchel Paige moment; the great Negro League star was fond of telling folks; "Don't look back, cause somethin' may be gaining on you." Smith did leave that first presser with a great deal of alacrity; fleeing from the fearsome Albany press corps, ostensibly to get to his next meeting in a timely fashion. As Capitol Confidential quips, his press conference was, "shovel ready."

In the process, however, he left his members behind to answer questions that they clearly were ill equipped to answer. As Liz B reported: "President Pro Tempore-to-be Malcolm Smith's Albany media availability this morning - his first since striking a deal with the Gang of Three last week - was ostensibly held to show the Democrats are moving forward and ready to take control of the Senate. But the event proved to be such a free-for-all that one veteran Albany scribe described it as "the worst press conference I'd ever seen."

He did return later for another availability: "Well at least he stuck around this time. At his second attempt at facing the Capitol press corps today, Malcolm Smith apologized for ducking out on reporters this morning and then proceeded to avoid answering most of their queries this time around, too, DN Albany Bureau Chief Ken Lovett reports. Smith refused to confirm the roles the Gang of Three will play in the Senate next year, even though the trio has been discussing their new jobs with the media for days."

What's clear here is that there is still a discomfort level with the New Deal that was struck last week-it's hard to accept being snookered by the Three Amigos. As the Times Union relates: "There are some very positive aspects to the power-sharing arrangement that Mr. Smith, as the reigning Senate Democrat, clearly had little choice to accept in order to win over Mr. Espada and the rest of the so-called Gang of Three. The idea of letting committee chairmen bring bills to the floor, rather than having them go through the leadership, is long overdue. One of those chairmen, in fact, might well be Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn leading the Finance Committee, and presumably with more autonomy and power in budget negotiations than his predecessors."

Hard indeed, especially for all of the other huffers and puffers who plotted behind the scenes, only to become faint of heart at the moment of taking the necessary decisive action-which only must inflame the timid renegade wanna bees even more. As the City Room reminds us: "That means that details of the secret power sharing deal he agreed to last week with three dissident Democrats will remain secret, at least officially. Good government groups and even some fellow Democrats have been concerned about the arrangement that was worked out behind closed doors."

But Smith did let something out of the bag at the second presser. As The Politicker reports: "Smith was also asked repeatedly about whether the committee chairs members of the self-titled Gang of Three have stated they will control are accurate. Smith said there will be an announcement on Wednesday, but that "each of them know the position they are going to receive." The NY Post also reports this in this morning's paper.

All of this doesn't sit well with the NY Daily News' Bill Hammond. Hammond compares Smith to the Giants' Plaxico Burress, saying that Smith, "shot himself in the foot," with a series of leadership gaffs: "First, he let himself get sucked into a very ugly deal with "three amigos" Pedro Espada Jr., Carl Kruger and Ruben Diaz - a trio of Democratic senators who had balked at supporting him for leader. Then he compounded the damage a hundred times over with a series of PR blunders."

In addition, he feels that Smith simply gave too much away: "Kruger, best known for playing footsie with the Republicans, is to head the powerful Finance Committee, which passes judgment on every major bill and gubernatorial appointment. In short, Smith gave away the store. Even though he had Gov. Paterson and other political heavyweights backing him up. Even though the amigos had to know that abandoning their party would surely cost them reelection in 2010."

This evaluation is, however, a bit too simplistic-especially the part about the governor's support; and while Smith might have been more deft in his responses, the Hammond analysis doesn't give enough credit to the three amigos for the execution of a brilliant game plan; something that Gerson Borrerro does in his El Diario column yesterday.

We'll give the TU the last word on all of this political drama:

"The Issue:

The Democrats strike a deal so they can take control of the state Senate.

The Stakes:

What's the price of three dissidents with so much power?"