The New York State Senate is in meltdown and neither the Judiciary nor the Executive is willing or constitutionally able to bail them out. In Albany, dysfunction is a way of life. Journalists, lobbyists and political pundits who walk the marble halls of the Capitol have learned over the decades how to menuver around this dysfunction; but none of us were prepared for the chaos of the last ten days.
In retrospect, those of us long term lobbyists should have been able to predict this. Had we thought about it, we would have seen the sign posts; a ultra slim majority where at least four Democratic members, street smart politicians all, decided they could use their vote to bargain for personal power in the new majority. Two have been successful so far in getting what they wanted, one a powerful committee chairmanship with a large stipend, the other a legislative hold on a controversial public policy issue. The remaining two "amigos" were more problematic . Mr. Espada, a freshman Senator engulfed in multiple ongoing ethics investigations wanted to be President Pro Tempore of the State Senate. Mr. Smith, the new Democratic Majority Leader, had to deal with Mr. Espada but did not want to make him President Pro Temp of the Senate. Senator Smith had talked a great deal about reform during the last election and did not feel the ethically challenged Espada should be appointed to that position. Mr. Montserrante, the last of the amigos, is the odd man out; he was given a committee chairmanship but once accused, and then indicted, of felony abuse on his girlfriend with a broken glass the chairmanship was pulled by Senator Smith. Reportedly, he was also shunned by his female colleagues who refused to allow their staff to meet with him. So with the tenuous hold on the majority and two disgruntled Senators, the stage was set for the events of June 8th. The Republican Minority saw their chance to regain the Majority and they made their move. After two months of secret planning, it was over in a matter of minutes. The Democrats turned off the lights and adjourned.
Following the coup the Senate chamber remained dark for two days. Eventually the "coalition government" obtained a key to a chamber door and with hundreds of people and dozens of cameras watching entered the chamber to conduct business. Meanwhile on a parallel track, there was furious pressure brought to bear by Democratic leaders in Queens to flip Senator Monserrante back into the Democratic conference. By the start of a new week in Albany a new paradigm was in place. Mr. Monserrante did indeed return to the Democratic fold and the current 31-31 stalemate was created.
Two weeks now since the Republican coup and the business of state government has come to a complete halt. The regular legislative session ends this week. The Democrats refuse to come into the chamber until a leadership sharing agreement is reached, the Republicans come into the chamber but refuse to agree to the leadership sharing agreement. The State Assembly continues to finish its legislative agenda but without the Senate passing the same bills, nothing can go to the Governor to become law. The people of New York are getting no government action on essential pieces of legislation. The Albany nightmare continues.