Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The bid for power | | The Journal News

The bid for power | | The Journal News

While Rome . . . and Utica and Syracuse and the rest of New York burn, the state Senate Democrats in Albany continue their effort to snatch defeat from the jaws of November victory. Their jockeying for control of the chamber, finally wrestled from Republicans, has apparently reached a crescendo, with winners and losers emerging - in the Legislature, of course, but also among innocent bystanders. The outcome of the political battle is important, because it will help order how Gov. David Paterson maneuvers in the midst of the state's worsening budget and economic crisis.

Which Democrats stood to sit in which leadership chairs appeared to be a moving target through much of yesterday as Malcolm Smith of Queens, the top Democrat in the Senate, cut short a morning press conference that he called to discuss the moves. What seems to be clear is, when the Democrats officially end the Republicans' long control of the chamber in January, the top job will go to Smith; an upstate lawmaker, Sen. William Stachowski of Buffalo, will take another top post; Sen. Jeffrey Klein, Westchester-Bronx, would rise as well.

Perhaps most significant, Sen.-elect Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx, among a group of dissident Democrats who threatened to upset the Democrats' ascent if Latino lawmakers weren't invited to share power, was expected to gain a major post, if not all the traditional duties (and influence) that customarily go with it. Espada and his dissenting partners wield such power because the Democrats' majority is so narrow; the party's November victories will give it a 32-30 edge over the Republicans. Such a narrow margin has Smith at the ready to placate and pacify, or risk defections that would cede control of the chamber back to the GOP.

But there was collateral damage from these machinations, the victims being ordinary New Yorkers far from the infighting. According to news report, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, among the trio of dissenting Democrats, as well as a minister and a conservative, said he was promised by Smith that a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New York would be kept off the Senate floor, notwithstanding wide support in the Democratic conference. The General Assembly has already approved such legislation, and Paterson has been vocal about his backing. Passage in the full Senate had been expected to follow the Democrats' takeover.

The gay-marriage measure is important because (1) New York's highest court has said that the issue is one for the Legislature to decide, not the courts; (2) the Legislature should not abdicate its duties and stand on the sidelines as other state's marriage laws shape the rights and options available to New Yorkers; (3) it is past time for New York to end the unequal treatment and unfairness in its marriage laws. That history will surely be made in New York; there is no sound reason for further delaying what is fair and inevitable.

Sen. Smith - as well as Sen. Klein - has promised a number of substantive reforms when the Democrats take control of the Senate, long overdue measures that will advance the interests of better governance, including providing a stronger voice for those out of power. It should be a major embarrassment to Smith, Klein and the other leaders if the new Democratic majority has to sacrifice or step on the fundamental rights of others in order to advance their conference's own agenda.

No comments: