Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Paterson Urges State Senators to Compromise and Restore Order -

Paterson Urges State Senators to Compromise and Restore Order -

Published: June 10, 2009

ALBANY —Gov. David A. Paterson attempted on Wednesday to intercede in the power struggle that has thrown the State Senate into turmoil, urging Republicans and Democrats to reach a compromise that will return order to the Capitol.

Gov. David A. Paterson at a news conference at the state Capitol in Albany on Wednesday.

Mr. Paterson stopped short of saying he would use any authority he might have as governor to intervene directly. But he encouraged both sides to begin discussions so that the government can begin functioning normally during what should be the busy final days of the legislative session.

“This is getting a little ridiculous — they’ve got to act like adults here,” Mr. Paterson said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon in his chambers on the second floor of the Capitol.

With both Democrats and Republicans continuing to lay claim to control of the Senate, the situation appeared no closer to an amicable resolution.

Republicans insisted they would convene the Senate at 3 p.m. and begin passing legislation regardless of whether they were allowed inside the Senate chamber, which remained locked under orders from Democrats.

But in the latest twist in a feud that has grown increasingly bitter and bizarre, one of the Democratic senators who joined Republicans to stage a revolt said he had obtained the keys to the chamber and promised to convene a session there promptly at 3. Democrats responded by saying they would ask for a temporary injunction to stop the Republicans.

“We have access, we have keys, and we’re going to open the door to do our business,” said Pedro Espada Jr., who was selected as co-leader of the new Senate majority, along with Senator Dean G. Skelos, a Republican from Long Island. As Democrats continued to assess their legal and political options for challenging the Republicans’ move on Monday to seize power in the Senate, unity within the party appeared to strain even further. Democrats met privately Wednesday morning for about 40 minutes in their conference room on the third floor of the Capitol. And when they emerged, few were willing to express any confidence that their leader, Senator Malcolm A. Smith of Queens, would be able to hang onto his job.

When asked whether Mr. Smith would remain the party’s leader, Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, the Democrats’ deputy leader, said, “I can’t speculate on that,” adding, “We live day to day.” The possibility that more Democrats would defect and join Republicans remained very real.

“There are ongoing discussions and meetings that are taking place on all sides,” said Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, who was one of several Democrats considered to be open to switching his political allegiances.

Republicans were able to gain control of the Senate on Monday by recruiting two Democrats, Mr. Espada of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens, to vote with them to establish a new Senate leadership with Mr. Espada as the president pro tempore of the Senate and Mr. Skelos as the majority leader.

Mr. Smith has asked Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo to investigate whether there was anything illegal about that deal, a Senate official said Tuesday.

Among the aspects of the deal that Mr. Smith has asked the attorney general to look into are whether there was any improper quid pro quo between Republicans and Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid further inflaming tensions among Senate Democrats.

Republicans characterized Democrats as being in a state of denial.

“The fork is in them,” said Steven Pigeon, the top political adviser to Tom Golisano, the billionaire from Rochester who helped broker the deal. “I just think they haven’t admitted it yet.”

Mr. Pigeon said that more Democrats would soon join the new political alliance, but he would not say which ones or how many.

One of the senators who is believed to be considering breaking ranks with the Senate Democratic conference, Thomas K. Duane of Manhattan, would not say Tuesday where he planned to cast his political allegiance. “I am not considering anything but trying to get passed all the legislation I’ve spent my whole life fighting for,” he said. Mr. Duane, who did not attend meetings with his Democratic colleagues on Tuesday, said he had spent all day in discussions with senators from both parties.

Mr. Duane did not attend the meeting of Democrats on Wednesday morning, and he has not been seen in the Capitol since Monday. Mr. Duane is the sponsor of legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in New York. He has been working to garner the 32 votes necessary to pass the bill, and he said he would continue to do so.

Mr. Espada said Wednesday that he hoped to have Mr. Duane join him as a member of the new majority, and that he hoped to bring the same-sex marriage bill to a vote soon.

“I hope to take that up next week,” Mr. Espada said, adding that he fully supported Mr. Duane. “His signature issue is my signature issue at this point, and that has drawn us together closer this session.”

“I am for same-sex marriage,” Mr. Espada said, adding that he had not yet discussed the matter with Mr. Skelos, who opposes allowing gay couples to marry, but has said that he would let Republican lawmakers vote as they chose. “I think there will be a vote of conscience of the senators.”

Like all other legislation currently before the Senate, the same-sex marriage bill is stalled until the leadership confusion is resolved. Still, Republicans were preparing to move forward with action on more than 30 bills on Wednesday. A list they were circulating Wednesday morning had legislation that dealt with a variety of subjects — from local sales taxes to a requirement that used mattresses and bedding sold in the state be sanitized.

Though Republicans claim they now hold a majority, it has been very difficult for them to assume administrative control over the chamber. The day-to-day operations of the chamber are managed by the secretary of the Senate, who is appointed by the majority leader. The current secretary, Angelo Aponte, has so far refused to resign despite calls from Mr. Espada and Mr. Skelos for him to do so.

Republicans have claimed that the state’s Constitution precludes Mr. Aponte from keeping the doors of the Senate locked. Article 3, section 10 states: “The doors of each house shall be kept open, except when the public welfare shall require secrecy.”

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