Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 19 June 2009 06:56
The late comedy team of Abbot & Costello once rode high with their famous “Who’s On First?” routine. In their own effort at high hilarity, the New York State Senate offered a “Who’s In Charge?” act recently, one that ended with Democrats retaining their numerical majority, but with Dean Skelos, a Republican from Rockville Centre, back in his former role as Senate Majority Leader.
The drama took place on Monday, June 8, when two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. (D.-Bronx) and Hiram Monserrate (D.-Queens) voted with 30 Republicans on a resolution, one that removed Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, replacing him with Sen. Skelos and making Espada temporary president of the State Senate. However, later in the week, Monserrate switched back to the Democratic caucus, leaving that body deadlocked at 31-31 on the question of who is Majority Leader.
As of press time, both Skelos and Espada still have their new positions. On Tuesday, June 16, Justice Thomas J. McNamara of the State Supreme Court, refused to overturn the June 8 vote that installed Skelos as Majority Leader.
According to published reports, the attempted coup was brokered by Thomas Golisano, the upstate New York businessman who ran for governor on third party tickets in 1994, 1998, and 2002. Golisano contributed to the Democratic Party coffers in 2008, helping that party to wrestle control of the Senate from the Republicans. However, Golisano was reportedly unhappy himself with the lack of reforms in the way the State Senate does business. Adding to the surrealism of the unfolding events, Golisano, on May 15 of this year, announced that he was moving to Florida in order to “escape New York taxes,” claiming that he could save $13,800 per day in income taxes alone. But all this didn’t stop him from engineering, as a parting shot of sorts, a palace coup in his home state.
Needless to say, reaction to the coup broke down along party lines.
“The good news is that Long Island Republicans are coming back into control of the Senate and will have the ability to stop bad legislation, as well as having the leverage to force more State money to our schools, towns, and villages,” said State Assemblyman Joseph Saladino (R.-Massapequa). “We saw this when our school districts received record State school aid during the last five years. The MTA bailout legislation, which was passed this May, is a payroll tax that is unfair and devastating to Long Island businesses, taxpayers, and consumers. This legislation never would have passed if the Republicans controlled the New York State Senate these past five months. Long Island will greatly benefit by the change in the Senate. Once again, this upheaval illustrates the fact that Republican leadership represents less taxes and better representation for the residents who work, pay taxes, own their homes, and invest in our economy.”
“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,” Austin Shafran, Senator Smith’s press secretary, said in a statement. “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.”
However, Assemblyman Tom Alfano (R.-Franklin Square) waxed enthusiastically over the coup. “Long Island wins,” he claimed. “We’re back!”
“The impact of Dean becoming the Majority leader means that we have a seat at the table,” Alfano continued. “It means Belmont is back. It means school aid is back. It means health care is back. It means higher education and colleges are back. It means quality of life with programs like STAR and public transit is back! It means Nassau County is back!”
Senator Hannon 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) is angered by the move, stating no amount of legal acrobatics by the Republican Party will 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,” said DSCC spokesman Shams Tarek. “In the meantime, Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans talking about reform is like the shark in Jaws talking about vegetarianism.”
Espada’s rise itself has become a cause of controversy. Published reports noted that in the past, he has been indicted for using $70,000 from a city-financed HMO to fund a 1996 political campaign. Further, Espada, in 2000, was acquitted on charges of using $200,000 from a Soundview HMO to pay off campaign debts. The Bronx District Attorney is currently investigating Espada over his residence. He represents a district in the Bedford Park section of The Bronx, but his primary residence is a house in Mamaroneck in Westchester County. But for Senate Republicans all this was a small price to pay for having back their longtime control of the State Senate.
– Carissa Giardino contributed to this story.