Written by Carisa Giardino Thursday, 18 June 2009 09:11
In a bold move last week, Republican Senator Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre reclaimed his title as Senate Majority Leader with help from two of 32 Democrats who voted across the aisle on a resolution to successfully oust Senator Malcolm Smith from the position.
The 30-member Republican caucus has been highly critical of late, accusing the Senate majority of holding too many closed-door meetings during the state budget process and passing the controversial MTA bailout plan that includes a payroll tax that could affect every business, service or municipal employer in the counties the transit authority services.
“When Senator Malcolm Smith was elected Majority Leader in January, he stood in the chamber and said, ‘we have to change the way we do business in this chamber. Transparency has to be real and accountability has to be real.’ However, the result has been the most secretive and dysfunctional session in recent history and a complete and total failure to govern,” Senator Skelos said.
“A new bipartisan, coalition elected today has delivered on the promises for reform that the Senate Democrat leadership failed to keep. The new rules adopted today will create a more open, bipartisan, transparent and member-driven body that will take dramatic new steps to end Albany dysfunction.”
Skelos added, “Last week, at a news conference, I said that it would be a tremendous legacy for a lot of us to say we really reformed the system, to look back and say that I was part of that. Today will be remembered in state history as a day when real change and real reform began and dysfunction ended.”Democratic Senators Pedro Espada, Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens voted with Republicans on the resolution. The coup made way for Skelos to reclaim his seat as Majority Leader.
“This was an illegal and unlawful attempt to gain control of the Senate and reverse the will of the people who voted for a Democratic Majority. Nothing has changed. Senator Malcolm A. Smith remains the duly elected temporary president and Majority Leader. The real Senate Majority is anxious to get back to governing, and will take immediate steps to get us back to work,” Austin Shafran, Senator Smith’s press secretary, said in a statement.
Republican Senator Kemp Hannon, who serves the 6th Senatorial District, said the change in leadership returns a focus on the issue most important to Long Islanders - tax relief, tax relief and more tax relief. “For the past six months, the former New York City-based leadership relied too heavily on tax increases on suburban taxpayers to solve the state’s problems,” Senator Hannon said.
The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) on the other hand is angered by the move, stating no amount of legal acrobatics by a desperate GOP is going to overturn the will of the people. “Majority Leader Smith and the Senate Democrats look forward to both the resolution of today’s theatrics and upcoming elections when New Yorkers continue to vote more Democrats into office. In the meantime, Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans talking about reform is like the shark in Jaws talking about vegetarianism,” DSCC spokesman Shams Tarek said.
Democratic Senator Craig Johnson said the power grab is a disappointing diversion from the important work that needs to be done during the last days of the legislative session. “I am hopeful that the dust from this irresponsible and poorly thought-out attempt to subvert the results of last November’s elections will soon settle and we will be able to once again carry out the business of the people of the State of New York,” Johnson said.
Pursuant to a resolution passed by a majority of senators, Smith was elected to a two-year term as temporary president and Majority Leader of the New York State Senate in January 2009, becoming the first African-American Majority Leader in New York State history and the first Democratic leader in almost 40 years.
“The purported coup was an unlawful violation of New York State law and the Senate rules and we do not accept it. The Senate Majority is fully prepared to go back to the people’s work, but will not enter the chamber to be governed by unlawful rules,” Shafran said, adding that they plan to file an action for a temporary injunction to enjoin the Republicans from illegitimately usurping authority from the people of New York.
Court papers Senator Smith filed June 11 state that the action for injunctive relief seeks to redress a constitutional crisis in the State of New York.
The court papers state Senator Espada, acting in concert with others, purported to unsurp the office of temporary president of the Senate based on a secret resolution never properly introduced, never in order, never properly before the Senate, never adopted, insufficient to its stated purpose and patently illegal under applicable statues.
“Senator Espada’s claim of entitlement to the office of temporary president is a nullity, undermining both the rule of law and the constitutional order of succession to the executive” the court papers state. “Senator Espada’s attempted takeover of the Senate also fulminates chaos and confusion in the halls of government, calling into question any and all legislative acts purported to be undertaken in its wake - effectively neutering the entire body and shutting down the legislative process of New York State. The voters, the Assembly and the executive do not know with certainty who controls the Senate. The irreparable harm to the people and government of the State of New York thus cannot be overstated.”
That same day, Justice Karen Peters of the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division granted the temporary restraining order Senator Smith requested, restraining Senator Espada “from exercising any powers as the President Pro Tem of the Senate, pending further order of the Supreme Court Albany County.”
In a turn of events June 14, Senator Monserrate changed his mind and returned to the Democratic conference leaving the Senate deadlocked at 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats.
As of press time, a Supreme Court judge was expected to rule June 14 on who actually controls the Senate.