Saturday, June 13, 2009

Come Hell or Hiram-Water

The full focus of public attention is now squarely on our good friend Hiram Monserrate-with a NY Times feature on the tough, but mercurial state senator: "For much of this week, he has been a silent sidekick to Pedro Espada Jr., the Bronx Democrat who assumed the post of Senate president in a power-sharing deal with Republicans that seemed to give them a 32-to-30 voting advantage. Senators Espada and Monserrate bolted the Democratic caucus on Monday. But twice since then, the fragile new coalition government’s efforts to restart the legislative session have been thwarted by Mr. Monserrate, who says he wants more time to lure more Democrats."

But what's most interesting is how the Times captures the paradoxical nature of the public perceptions of Hiram-with the mainstream media excoriating him and convicting him before trial; but, at the same time, the Latino community lionizes him: "Yet through it all, State Senator Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat, has maintained a durable popularity in the Corona and Elmhurst neighborhoods he represents, in part because of his attention to issues like immigration and tenants’ rights and in part because he retains an image as an independent outsider."

That's because Hiram has established a track record as a fighter-taking on the mayor in the "Pay to Pray" controversy that successfully forced the city to back down. And when no one would, Monserrate defended the beleaguered Bronx Terminal Market while other pols fed at the developer's trough. As the Times points out: "Mr. Monserrate was also, by many accounts, an effective Council member. In 2003, for example, he secured a compromise from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to maintain a longstanding policy prohibiting city employees from reporting illegal immigrants to the federal authorities. “Hiram has always been an absolute bulldog and champion of the underdog,” said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist who has had Mr. Monserrate’s help in battling the mayor and Council on several issues."

Now, it's not surprising that Hiram finds himself in the eye of yet another storm. But his challenge is not to get caught in a political cul-de-sac; with his longstanding friends and allies left at the altar of an unexamined leap. Which is why we believe that Monserrate will try to find a way back home-and back to a place where his political brand can be re-established.

Perhaps the replacement of Malcolm Smith will offer the senator an opportunity to find a way back. But the road ahead is filled with more uncertainties; and the potential 31-31 gridlock could grind the wheels of government to a total halt. Which is why the Times editorializes today in favor of some kind of power sharing: "Other states, faced with a tie vote and the instability that goes with it, have created power-sharing agreements that are designed to stay in place until the next election. Legislatures in Michigan, Virginia, Washington State, Maine, Oklahoma, Montana, New Jersey and Florida have each come up with methods like co-leaders or shared control of committees. The idea is that people of good faith should be able to agree to govern."

Whatever happens, it is likely that Hiram Monserrate will find himself in the middle of-un lio; chaos does attract those who take little pleasure in the niceties of the status quo. He does, however, need to find his political loadstar from out of this chaos. We'll see if he manges to do so as the current controversy unfolds.