about the coup in Albany on Monday in which the Republicans re-took control of the New York State Senate. And it was, literally, a coup, planned in secret for weeks and pulled off with lightning speed. At 3 o’clock Monday afternoon, in the middle of routine legislative matters, a Republican member suddenly proposed sweeping changes in the Senate’s rules of organization, stunning and galvanizing the body. And then, as votes began, two Democratic members, Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, further stunned the Democrats by voting with the Republicans, electing a Republican as Majority Leader. The Democrats then stormed out of the Senate, and even had the lights turned off in the Senate chamber in a futile attempt to stop the proceedings.
Adding to the drama, neither Monserrate nor Espada (the latter is a strong opponent of same-sex “marriage”) are exactly model citizens:
June 9, 2009
G.O.P. Regains Control of New York State Senate
By DANNY HAKIM and JEREMY W. PETERS
ALBANY—The Democrats’ tenuous control of the New York State Senate abruptly collapsed on Monday, throwing the Legislature into chaos with just two weeks remaining in its session.
Two dissident Democrats, who had been secretly strategizing with Republicans for weeks, bucked their party’s leaders and joined with 30 Republican senators to form what they said would be a bipartisan power-sharing deal. But the arrangement effectively re-establishes Republican control.
The change upends the agenda in Albany, where Democrats had assumed power in the Senate in January, with 32 seats, after more than 40 years in the minority. Democrats were pushing bills to give tenants more rights, strengthen abortion rights and legalize same-sex marriage this session. And the move underscores the continuing tumult of New York politics, where there have been three governors in less than three years and four Senate presidents since last summer.
Democratic leaders were caught off guard as the Republicans and the two Democratic dissidents, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens, moved to topple them, and at one point became so flustered that they turned out the lights in the Senate chamber to try to prevent Republicans from installing new leaders.
Asked by a reporter what was occurring, Senator Malcolm A. Smith, leader of the Senate Democrats who was huddled in the hall with his staff, responded, “I’m trying to find out right now.”
A spokesman for Mr. Smith, who lost the titles of majority leader and Senate president in the shakeup, issued a statement later saying that Democrats would challenge the vote, but it was not clear that they had grounds to do so.
Gov. David A. Paterson, at a news conference Monday evening, called the move “an outrage” and said Albany had become a “dysfunctional wreck.”
The governor also said “I will not allow this,” but then conceded that there was nothing he could do to stop it.
The toppling of Democratic control unfolded in swift and dramatic fashion shortly after 3 p.m. as senators gathered in the lofty oaken chamber for what seemed like small-bore legislative action on an uneventful afternoon.
Then, Senator Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican, offered a resolution to reorganize the Senate leadership, a parliamentary maneuver that captured the entire Capitol’s attention. Within minutes, reporters, staff members and Assembly members rushed to the Senate, crowding the chamber floor.
Democrats tried to stall the move, storming from the chamber and turning out the lights, but the Republicans continued the session as the two Democrats joined with them to elect new leaders.
Quickly and without a numerical majority, Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, reclaimed the title of Senate majority leader. Mr. Espada was made Senate president.
Both Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate said they would remain Democrats even as they work with Republicans to run the Senate.
Both men have legal troubles. Highlighting the often elastic nature of ethical stands and alliances in Albany, Republicans who earlier this year were calling on Mr. Monserrate to resign after his indictment on felony charges that he stabbed his companion with a broken glass are now welcoming him as part of their power-sharing coalition.
Asked about the reversal, Mr. Skelos said, “He’s an elected member, and the reforms are more important.”
Mr. Espada has been fined tens of thousands of dollars over several years for flouting state law by not disclosing political contributions.
The state attorney general’s office is also investigating the Soundview HealthCare Network, a nonprofit organization that Mr. Espada ran until recently.
The new leadership structure means that Mr. Espada would become governor if Gov. David Paterson were incapacitated.
Mr. Espada, who is the first Latino Senate president, called his ascension “a sobering moment.” He predicted that other Democrats would decide to join the coalition, saying there is broad frustration with Mr. Smith’s leadership.
“Frustration was obviously building,” he said later, in an interview. “There was little prospect for change on a number of fronts. We experienced five months of the budget process and the absolute lack of transparency and the hypocrisy, and the rhetoric grew too much for me.”
But money also played a major role. Mr. Espada said he was angered that a top aide to Mr. Smith had threatened to hold up his legislative earmarks, known as member items.
Mr. Smith, at a news conference Monday night, argued that the Senate had adjourned when the Republicans took power—both sides argued the procedural fine points of what took place—and insisted that “the Senate majority is still in Democratic hands.”
“I’m not going to have this institution, which is a very proud institution, be demeaned in a manner like this,” Mr. Smith said. But Mr. Smith’s support appeared shaky; at least half a dozen Democrats did not attend his news conference.
After installing their leaders, Republicans enacted a series of rules reforms, including six-year term limits for the president and majority leader, steps to equalize the budgets of the majority and minority parties and mandating that pork barrel projects would be distributed equally among members of both parties.
The changes were pushed by Tom Golisano, the Rochester billionaire who spent heavily in the 2008 Senate election to elect members he believed were committed to a more open Albany. But he felt betrayed that Senate Democrats didn’t act more boldly when they took over in January.
Mr. Skelos said his legislative priorities would include resolving whether Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg could retain control over the city school system, reforming property taxes and reissuing property tax rebate checks that had been eliminated by Mr. Paterson and lawmakers in budget negotiations earlier this year.
He said he had not discussed with Mr. Espada whether they would bring the same-sex marriage bill to a vote.
Mr. Skelos has said he opposes same-sex marriage, but Mr. Espada is one of the co-sponsors of the legislation, which has been one of the most closely watched issues this session.
Republicans almost kept control of the Senate after the November election by courting Mr. Espada and two other dissident Democrats, Carl Kruger of Brooklyn and Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx. Neither man left the chamber with the other Democrats on Monday while Republicans took power.
Mr. Kruger was noncommittal when he was asked whether he would consider joining Mr. Espada.
“It’s very early to talk about that right now,” he said. “Everybody has to take a deep breath.”
Mr. Golisano, who played a central role in brokering the deal, recently announced that he was moving his legal residence to Florida out of anger about the budget deal crafted in April by Democratic leaders in Albany, which included an increase in taxes on high earners.
Appearing at a news conference with Mr. Skelos and Mr. Espada, he said talks had been underway for several weeks.
“We went to work about 60 days ago,” he said.
The shake-up most likely means that Republicans will take over the chairmanships of most of the Senate’s committees. Staff members, whose jobs often depend on which party is in power, were trying to assess the impact of the switch Monday night.