Monday, January 05, 2009

Coming Down to the High Wire

As Liz Benjamin reports in this morning's NY Daily News, Malcolm Smith met with dissident senate Democrats in an eleventh hour attempt to craft a final deal so that he could assume the body's leadership post on Wednesday: "There's 72 hours left, and still no deal in Albany.
Both sides in the battle over who will control the Democrat-led Senate stepped up the pressure Sunday in the hope of ending the stalemate before Wednesday's vote. Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith - heir apparent to the leadership spot - met face-to-face with the so-called Gang of Three on Sunday night in the Bronx. It was his first meeting with the renegade Democratic trio since a power-sharing deal brokered by Gov. Paterson imploded and imperiled Smith's standing with his fellow Dems."

Whatever the terms of any agreement might turn out to be, what is most precious in these final stages is the issue of trust: "The highly public death of the deal created a significant "trust issue" between Smith and the three senators - Ruben Diaz Sr., Pedro Espada Jr. and Carl Kruger - that Smith has yet to resolve, a Gang of Three source said. "No one has a great deal of faith in [Smith] until this check clears," said the source. "They've been down this road before. The old Clint Eastwood line comes to mind about your mouth writing checks your body can't cash. They're prepared to bury him if that's the case."

Still, it appears as if the three amigos are more eager to side with their Democratic colleagues, if they can get Smith to collateralize any agreement with the support of his conference-the same folks who abandoned him kicking and screaming last month. And, as Benjamin avers, it remains true that the three hold outs hold the cards for any leadership end game: "Neither Skelos nor Smith can succeed without the votes of Espada, Diaz and Kruger as long as all the other senators remain loyal to their respective parties. The gang seemed content yesterday to let negotiations go down to the wire. "There is no decision yet," Diaz told the Daily News. "The people will know on Jan. 7."

The exact nature of any agreement is yet to be determined, but what is clear is that the three will have to be satisfied if Smith is to be elevated; and, as of yesterday, it appeared that this was a possibility: "The now dead Paterson-brokered deal would have made Espada majority leader, Kruger head of a souped-up Finance Committee and Diaz chairman of the Aging Committee. A Democratic source said key elements of that deal remain in play. "They will get marginally less, but not substantially less, than they were first offered," the source said. "What has to happen here is the Gang of Three has to blink a little bit, but not too much."

There is a good chance that all of this will be resolved today-although it's unlikely that anything will be announced, since public displays of affection have a tendency to backfire before anything is finalized officially: "The Senate Democrats were slated to meet Saturday but scrapped that plan because there was no deal. They will now meet in Albany tomorrow night, as will the Republicans. Sen. Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, predicted the leadership fight will be over by tomorrow. He insisted there would be no significant disturbance in the Senate regardless of the outcome. "It has the potential of going in either direction, and I think it gets done very quickly because it's starting to get old," Golden said."

If Smith is able, however, to convince the three amigos that any agreement reached is solid, there is a chance that the insurrection will be over-and that Democrats will control all three branches of state government. Today should bring clarity-and perhaps finality-to this entire episode in gamesmanship.