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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Senators Know Best

Few New Yorkers entered the polling booth on Election Day wondering who was going to control the state Senate next year. That’s a good thing because a couple of state senators have decided such matters are too important for voters to decide.

At least 32, and perhaps 33 (depending upon the outcome of still-contested race in an upstate district), of the 63 Democrats who sought election to the state Senate in November won, giving the Democrats, on paper at least, a majority in the state Senate. The Republicans controlled the state Senate in 2011 and 2012.

State Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and state Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), recognizing that the voters’ collective decision was a problematic one for them, have decided to share power in the state Legislature’s upper chamber. As such, Long Island is at the center of the new, bi-partisan state Senate, where about 30 Republicans, nine of them from Nassau and Suffolk, have joined forces with five breakaway Democrats to form a governing majority. You may recall the bi-partisan state Senate coalition of 2009 crashed and burned weeks after its formation. But this time it is going to be different, I say [in my sarcastic voice]. Had the voters’ choice been implemented in January 2013, Albany would again have been the one-party town it was for most of 2009 and 2010, because New York has a Democratic governor and a sizable (107-43) Democratic majority in the state Assembly.

Readers of this space know I believe a Republican-controlled state Senate has been the only thing keeping New York from going the way of California, a place where one-party Democratic rule has led to strong pushes for greater access to marijuana, perhaps to offset the pain these same lawmakers inflict through higher taxes.

“Albany doesn’t do out of the box very well,” said Robert Bellafiore, who was Governor Pataki’s press secretary and is the founder and president of Stanhope Partners, an Albany, NY-based public affairs firm as well as a frequent commentator on Capital Tonight, a well-regarded political news program on Time Warner Cable’s Your News Now (YNN). Bellafiore did credit the Republicans for months ago laying the groundwork for this type of collaboration.

Senator Klein, for instance, had warm feelings about the GOP prior to Election Day 2012 because they gave him the Republican nomination, giving Klein a free pass to another two-year term. State Senator Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) had a different motive for crossing the aisle. Senator Smith met with GOP party leaders this year about securing the GOP’s support for his possible New York City mayoral bid in 2013, a plan that became more complicated last week when MTA chairman Joseph Lhota indicated he’d like to be the GOP’s mayoral nominee, too. Let’s not forget the part about actually governing the state. Senators Klein and Smith are likely to favor legislation next year that would raise the minimum wage, allocate taxpayer monies to pay for state political campaigns, and decriminalize marijuana possession. Way back in the spring of 2012, the GOP-controlled state Senate had little interest in passing those bills but now that political survival is their highest priority, who knows where Albany’s Republicans will stand on any issue?

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net