The latest insanity in Albany started on Tuesday of last week with defections in the State Senate, and though one of the two defectors has recinded his defection, and though a judicial pronouncement is due out today, the Albany chaos is at its beginning rather than at its ending.
On Tuesday of last week, two of the State Senate's Democratic members sided with the Republican Party to attempt to elect new leadership in the State Senate. Because the Democrats held a slim 30-32 vote majority, the maneuver created a 32-30 majority for the Republicans and threw Albany into Chaos. The two Democrats making the switch were already in serious legal trouble. One of them, Pedro Espada, Jr., is under investigation by the New York State Attorney General's office for misuse of State funds, and the other, Hiram Monserrate has been indicted for attacking his female companion. Any Senator that is convicted of a felony is immediately removed from office. Therefore, while Monserrate reversed his defection today, Espada's might be reversed by a jury in the coming months if it is not reversed in some other way.
Another Billionaire Anoints Himself Leader
In New York City, our Mayor is a multi-billionaire who felt that the two consecutive term maximum in the New York City Charter was too restrictive. He had it changed to allow him to serve a third term by enlisting the help of another billionaire, the same billionaire who initially promoted the term limits that the Mayor overturned. It seemed that the Mayor of New York City believed that any time two billionaires agree on a public policy issue, the absence of a billionaire in opposition to them demonstrated the correctness of their approach while also converting any principled opposition into "disgrace[ful]" attacks.
In the latest Albany nightmare, yet another billionaire, Tom Golisano, led the process to initiate the chaos because he felt slighted and angry after the Democrats voted to raise taxes in the highest earners in New York State. He met in secret with the Republicans and personally wooed the two defecting Democrats into the Republican fold.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, their coup had an instant misfire. Monserrate refused to support his own coup the day after he initiated it. His change of heart intensified the sense that Albany is adrift and potentially unsalvageable in the near term.
Monserrate went so far as to pledge last week to vote "no" on all legislation until he could more Democrats switch to the Republican camp. Such an approach would have ensured that nothing could pass the New York State Senate and would ensure that Democrats and Republicans would have nothing to show for this session. His decision to return to the Democrats has a similar effect. It leaves the New York State Senate deadlocked at 31-31 with no mechanism to break the tie (because of the lack of a Lt. Governor in New York State after Governor Spitzer's resignation and the elevation of Lt. Governor Paterson to the office of Governor - New York State has no system for filling the vacant Lt. Governor position).
The Democrats have asked the New York State judiciary to declare the Republican takeover of the New York State Senate illegal. While we eagerly await the decision of the judiciary branch today (a decision almost certain to be appealed until it ends up in the New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals), we find it very difficult to see that such a declaration would have any practical impact.
Espada is not going to support the Democrats, one cannot imagine a justice declaring that State Senators must support a particular leadership team or political party. Ultimately, even if the judicial branch declares that the Republican takeover was invalid, the practical effect of having more Senators supporting the Republicans than the Democrats will be the same as if the coup were validated by the judicial branch. If remain deadlocked, no one will be in charge, and chaos will remain the order of the day.
The only questions that matter revolve around how Senators will vote in committees and on legislation that reaches the Senate floor. For now, we have many questions and no answers.
With so much riding on this session, including the potential legalization of same-sex marriage, the frustration of the latest chaos is greater than what accompanies the typical Albany foolishness. The Democrats worked for 70 years to gain control of the New York State Senate for long enough to make real changes in public policy as well as in the institution of the State Senate itself. Now, after less than six months in power, it seems that the 70 years of Republican control (with one brief interruption in 1965) continue endlessly into the future. If the Democratic control of the State Senate proves to have been a mirage (or even a fantasy), the people of the State of New York will not have the leadership in place that is needed to help pull New York through the global economic slowdown or prepare New York for the brighter national and global economic times that are certain to arrive sooner or later. Without Democratic control, we might never allow all New Yorkers to have the right to marry. We might miss out on a great future that we were supposed to have as a progressive State in the era of progressive politics that has emerged in Washington DC. We might have to wait another 70 years for the chance to fix our problems and get our public sector leadership moving coherently and enthusiastically toward better lives for the people of New York State.