Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Only Possible Ending
I was away when the New York State Senate ground to a halt about a month ago. Since coming back, I've followed this story about as much as my digestive system would allow: there's only so much I can take of a story in which the protagonists include ever-bumbling Governor David Paterson, egomaniacal billionaire Tom Golisano, a guy who makes Paterson look like a statesman in Malcolm Smith, the violent yet dithering Hiram Montserrate, and a guy who makes Smith look like a statesman in Pedro Espada Jr.

But if you've not been tracking it at all--and more power to you if this is the case--here's the brief summary: on June 8, Espada and Montserrate, both (entirely nominal) Democrats, announced that they would caucus with the Senate Republicans, flipping control of the chamber to that party by the same 32-30 margin the Democrats had previously enjoyed. Espada, the subject of multiple criminal investigations, would serve as the president of the Senate. Golisano, many times a failed candidate for governor as a Republican and/or right-leaning independent but a major financial backer of the Democrats when they took a majority last fall, soon stated that he helped fund the coup because Smith had disrespected him at a meeting--specifically by checking his Blackberry while Golisano was talking. But about a week after the initial switch, Montserrate--himself facing criminal charges for allegedly slashing his girlfriend's face with a broken glass-- announced that he would rejoin the Democrats, creating a 31-31 tie.

Ordinarily, this would not constitute an enormous problem, since the lieutenant governor could break ties... but that position had been vacant since Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace sixteen months ago and his lieutenant, Paterson, had replaced him. Thus, for three weeks, total deadlock--while important legislation such as renewal of mayoral control over New York City schools sat idle. (When the Senate failed to reauthorize mayoral control by the July 1 deadline, the city's long-disbanded Board of Education came back from the dead; Mayor Bloomberg and four of the five borough presidents quickly signaled their contempt for the body, entirely justified, by stacking it with Bloomberg allies. This struck me as appropriate: one good farce deserves another.) Paterson, who at one particularly low point asked the Senators to put aside their differences in consideration of the lobbyists (!), brought matters to a head Wednesday by appointing a lieutenant governor, veteran Democratic official/fixer Richard Ravitch. (Ravitch, to his great credit, was sworn in at the excellent Peter Luger steakhouse in Brooklyn. While his appointment might have been questionable, his taste is not.)

Today, the situation resolved itself in the only way it could have: with the slimy Espada re-defecting to the Democrats, as their Majority Leader.

Mr. Espada said he had ended his 31-day alliance with the Republicans because he had become convinced that Democrats were committed to overhauling the Senate and making it operate more fairly and efficiently. He characterized the intense battle that had consumed the Capitol as a family feud.

“Sometimes best friends fight,” Mr. Espada said, adding: “I never left home. I had a little leave of absence. My brothers and sisters welcomed me back, and we come back stronger than ever.”

But it appears that Mr. Espada may have been driven to make a deal to return as majority leader out of fear of being marginalized, because a separate Democratic faction was moving to establish a power-sharing deal with the Republicans.

Indeed, the Democrats have become increasingly polarized, often along racial lines. Mr. Espada and other Hispanic senators have pushed for more influence from Mr. Smith and Mr. Sampson, who are black.

Separately, the faction of seven white Democrats, led by Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, that had sought the power-sharing deal with the Republicans is especially uneasy with Mr. Espada, who faces investigations related to nonprofit health clinics he runs, his campaign finance practices and whether his primary residence is in the Bronx. Any arrangement they reached with Republicans would probably have pushed Mr. Espada aside.

Faced with that possibility, Mr. Espada returned to the Democrats in exchange for a job whose power beyond its title is difficult to discern. The titles of Senate president and majority leader have traditionally been combined; the president is vested with special powers in the state’s Constitution, and the majority leader is not.

As majority leader, Mr. Espada will receive a bonus on top of his regular legislator’s salary.

That's what these guys are about: grievance, money and power. Considerations of the public good are strictly for suckers.

Perhaps the strangest development in this entire debacle was that the one guy who consistently made sense in talking and writing about it was Il Douche himself, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. A couple weeks back, Giuliani wrote an op-ed in the New York Times calling for the sort of root-and-branch reform that Spitzer had promised, but going further by calling for a new constitutional convention to fundamentally restructure government in the state. Of Giuliani's seven specific reform suggestions, the only one I'm probably not on board with is the requirement of a super-majority for tax increases (with redistricting to ensure more competitive elections, anyone who votes to raise taxes will face enough of a concern in winning re-election), and I probably could be talked out of term limits if they're badly structured; the rest--from redistricting to campaign finance reform to the budget process--seem right on the mark.

God help me, I could almost see voting for the bastard if he runs for governor next year. He's an authoritarian and a sociopath, and certainly he'd do a great many things that I'd deplore (and probably bitch about right here). But the thought of Rudy making life miserable for the likes of Espada and Smith is pretty appealing. Half the country already votes on spite; why not me?

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