Wednesday, January 07, 2009

It's a Done Deal

After two months of acrimony and uncertainty, the Democrats finally put it all together and took control of the state senate. As Liz B reported last night: "The Senate leadership deal is officially done, and Queens Democrat Malcolm Smith has finally landed the 32 votes he needs to be majority leader of the Senate, putting the chamber back into Democratic hands for the first time in 43 years. Flanked by members of his conference - including all of the Gang of Three - who marched from Sen. Carl Kruger's office in the LOB to the Capitol to join their fellow Democrats, Smith announced his victory."

Here's how the NY Times described the deal to bring the dissidents into the fold: "Under the new deal, Mr. Smith will be both president and majority leader. While Mr. Kruger will become finance chairman, the committee will not get special autonomy, as had been previously envisioned. Mr. Espada will be vice president of the Senate for Urban Policy and chairman of the Housing Construction and Community Development Committee. Mr. Díaz will lead the Senate’s Aging Committee."

In our-quite unbiased-view, the ability of the Three Amigos to hang together and negotiate positions of responsibility and influence has been quite remarkable. In particular, our good friend Carl Kruger demonstrated a steely will and perseverance that helped to hold the amigos together. Both Espada and Diaz also showed that they could hang together and stay as a team in order to achieve a common goal. Espada, who has been cited as a bit of a wild card, proved to be disciplined and wily in his ability to keep both sides unbalanced to the advantage of the dissidents.

And in the end, three senators who on November 4th could have expected to get gornish and bubkis from Smith, came away with some serious clout and influence; with Kruger negotiating a vastly greater authority for the finance committee that he will chair-we're not sure what the Times means on autonomy, but the new finance committee will have its own $5.9 million budget; something that was negotiated the first time around.

As far as the issue of gay marriage is concerned, there was some uncertainty; but everyone realizes that the 32 votes to pass the measure simply doesn't exist. As the Times points out: "The issue of same-sex marriage was not a sticking point in the discussions among Democrats on Tuesday, several senators said. In fact, it may be moot for the near future.Though it does not appear that a bill to legalize marriage of gay men and of lesbian couples will be voted on anytime soon, it will not be because of any bargain, senators said. With several Democratic senators opposed to same-sex marriage, there are not presently enough votes to get a bill through the Senate. “There are still five or six votes against the bill in the Democratic conference,” said Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, who represents parts of Bronx and Westchester County. He insisted that same-sex marriage was not discussed at all among Democrats on Tuesday. “And I certainly don’t know five or six Republicans who are going to vote for it,” Mr. Klein added. “Everybody understands that.”

Now what remains to be seen is how the newly arranged governance structure will work in practice. As Liz pointed out: "Chief among the rules reforms is the end to the "canvass of agreement," which means votes on motions to discharge bills from committee will now be recorded and no longer done by voice vote. Also, members of either party will have an expanded ability to bring bills out of committee to the floor and both minority and majority members will be able to sponsor and co-sponsor bills."

All of which is a good step for reform; and this new approach will be sorely tested in the difficult budget negotiations ahead. But it is the so-called Gang of Three that emerged last might-along with Malcolm Smith-as the big winners; just when many pundits had counted them down for the count.