Monday, December 08, 2008

Wheeling and Dealing

Will the center hold? That seems to be the question as we await the official announcements of state senate leader Malcolm Smith as to which of his members will rise to positions of influence. As of yesterday, after it appeared as if Smith had tried to walk away from his publicly heralded-as well as lambasted-deal with the senate rebels, it looked as if the deal had been cobbled back together. As Liz B reported: "A sign that Malcolm Smith is indeed confident the deal he struck (whatever its terms) with the Gang of Three to make him majority leader will hold: He's poised to announce four committee chairmanships tomorrow morning. None of the posts in question are the biggies supposedly going to two of the three renegades (Finance - Sen. Carl Kruger; Majority Leader, Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr.). But the imminent announcement is nonetheless very telling. First of all, Smith is poised to make Buffalo Sen. Bill Stachowski deputy majority leader. Stachowski is currently the ranking Democrat on the powerful Finance Committee, which means he's getting passed over to ascend to the chairmanship so Smith can make Kruger happy."

But this is the kind of deal-like some kind of delicate souffle-that needs to be watch constantly, less it deflates and spoils. And, at least according to Liz, it appears that the senator who was most upset at Saturday's closed door meeting was Jeff Klein: "Making Stachowski deputy majority leader appears to be a slap to Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein, who is currently the deputy minority leader and also widely speculated to be interested in ousting Smith - or, at the very least, stepping into the breach to take control when and if Smith fails as leader of the Democratic conference. Klein was among the few senators who challenged Smith at yesterday's closed-door meeting, suggesting he had given away too much to the Gang of Three in exchange for a pledge of their support."

So whatever actually does happen will be a prelude to a potentially fractious conference-and senate as a whole; although Klein will supposedly get a position that places him right below Smith on the senate depth chart. All of which makes our really old friend Alan Chartock extremely upset-he sees (via Liz) the whole deal as somehow anti-democratic: "Then the Gang of Three was shamelessly diffused by Democratic leader Malcolm Smith, giving away the deputy (No. 2) job to one of the Gang and the chairmanship of the Finance Committee (far and away the most important committee) to another.The Gang had hidden behind all kinds of fictitious issues of principle, such as gay marriage, but it really all came down to naked power. They were blackmailing the larger number of their colleagues to get as much out of the system as they could and, they were successful. They thwarted democracy. It was disgusting."

Pretty strong language, if you ask us, from someone who's supposed to be a veteran observer of politics-indicating that perhaps Chartock had a particular dog in the hunt who was sliced and diced in the sausage meat machine. As he goes on to lament: "The fact that the Gang of Three has won out is not a good sign of things to come. The deputy leader’s job should have gone to an upstater. Now the Upstate voters will get the idea that they don’t count. Like I said, disgusting."

The hand wringing over the ability of these three unlikely senatorial allies to not only effect major changes in government, but to also aggrandize their own positions, is apparently unsettling to some folks. Even Liz gets into the act with the following comments in today's column in the NY Daily News: "The power-sharing deal Smith cut with the Gang of Three - so controversial that even the Republicans rejected it - was all but dead until Gov. Paterson stepped in and convinced Smith to sign on, a source familiar with the negotiations said. Some allies of Smith, who succeeded Paterson as minority leader in 2006, are worried the governor wanted to undermine Smith by weakening him. Meanwhile, one GOP senator called the deal "suicide" and predicted it would result in such "chaos" when the Senate reconvenes in January that it could fuel a GOP comeback in 2010. "We were not going to do what Malcolm did," said Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden. "The people of this state will see what the Democrats did and say, 'Maybe the Republicans weren't so bad after all.'"

Talk about rewriting history! The only reason the Republicans didn't craft their own similar deal was the inability of Dean Skelos to get it done, on the one hand; and the greater incentive for the dissidents to work it out with their own party, on the other. But who knows? Until the fat lady sings, anything is possible. As the NY Times reports this morning: "Word of Mr. Stachowski’s promotion followed a private meeting in Manhattan on Saturday between Mr. Smith and other Senate Democrats, many of whom appear uncomfortable giving away so much power. According to several of those present, Mr. Smith insisted, as he had publicly, that the only firm element of the deal with the dissidents was to back him as Senate president."

All of this should, as Liz first reported, be settled by no later than Wednesday-but expect the unexpected in this matter. As she cautiously pointed out on Saturday: "A source close to Kruger reports that since I spoke to the senator early this evening, Kruger has received assurances from Smith and Paterson (how, exactly, these assurances were received I don't know), the deal is indeed on in all its glory and some kind of formal announcement will come out of Smith's office Wednesday. Take that with the generous shaking of salt that applies to all things connected to the fight over Senate leadership these days."