Democrats Occupy New York Senate Chamber
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Today was supposed to be the day the New York State government got back to work. The State Senate has been paralyzed for two weeks. There was a failed legislative coup and a dispute over which party was in charge. Governor David Paterson used his powers to compel state senators to meet today.
But as NPR's Robert Smith reports, the senators didn't exactly cooperate.
ROBERT SMITH: The political battle over who controls the New York State Senate became more like a child's game of calling dibs today. First, Democrats and Republicans plotted to see who could get to the podium first to hold the gavel, and then they proceeded to ignore each other. This came after Governor David Paterson had basically told both sides to grow up and show up in special session this afternoon.
Governor DAVID PATERSON (Democrat, New York): Over the last couple of weeks, the senators' conduct has been laughable. But what's going on around here these days is no joke, and I don't find it funny.
SMITH: Perhaps surreal is the better term. Let's recap. On June 8th, Republicans tried to take over the State Senate from the Democrats, two Democrats defected to help the Republicans out and then one re-defected back. So, long story short: the New York State Senate became tied and for weeks no one has been able to figure out who is in charge.
Democratic State Senator Eric Schneiderman told reporters this afternoon that negotiations broke down over who would run the special session.
State Senator ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN (Democrat, New York): We don't want this to be a circus, and we're asking the Republicans to enter into an operating agreement. They have refused to do that. They are still focusing on in the issue of whether or not the June 8th vote was valid and who's the president of the Senate.
SMITH: You see, the Republicans had a plan. If the New York Senate special session was at 3 o'clock this afternoon, they were going to show up at 2 o'clock and try and hold their own session; that way they'd be standing at the podium and at least visually in charge. But at 12:30, the Democrats launched a sneak attack. They entered into the Senate chamber through a back hallway and then they locked the doors. A state Democratic senator stood vigil at the podium.
Then the Senate Republicans came into the chamber and tried to hold their own session, ignoring the Democrats. And ostensibly passing bills, they brought their own gavel.
It would be amusing except the clock is ticking on crucial legislation for New York State. On July 1st, various sale taxes and labor agreements expire if not approved by the state legislature. Governor David Paterson noted that New York City needs approval to add one-half of one percent to its sales tax.
Gov. PATERSON: Are we going to let New York City lose millions of dollars a day because Albany doesn't act? No, we're not and we'll take it up in extraordinary session.
SMITH: The governor may have the last laugh. He has already vowed to hold the state senators in extraordinary session every day, including weekends and July 4th, until they get something done or perhaps are voted out of office, which may not be farfetched.
A poll released yesterday showed a record number of people saying that New York State is headed in the wrong direction, 63 percent. A majority called the Senate deadlock an embarrassment.
Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.
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