Democrats Back In Control Of N.Y. Senate

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The political deadlock in New York's legislature has been resolved. For the last month, the state Senate in Albany has been unable to pass bills or even meet. Republicans and Democrats were bickering over who was in charge. On Thursday, a renegade Democrat rejoined his party and returned control of the Senate to Democrats.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

New York State has finally resolved the political deadlock. For the last month, the state Senate in Albany has been unable to pass bills or even to meet. They could not agree who was in charge. But last night, a renegade Democrat rejoined his party and returned control of the state Senate to Democrats.

NPR's Robert Smith reports.

ROBERT SMITH: This political crisis has gone on so long that New Yorkers might not recognize this sound.

Unidentified Woman #1: Call the roll.

Unidentified Man #1: Adams, Klein, Kruger, Skelos, Smith, Young.

Unidentified Woman #1: Announce the results.

Unidentified Man #1: Ayes, 62.

Unidentified Woman #1: The bill is passed.

SMITH: That is the sweet music of legislators doing their job. The New York State Senate met late into the night, passing a backlog of bills, which is amazing because the last time they tried to do it was on June 8 when it sounded more like this.

Unidentified Man #2: I have the floor, Mr. President.

Unidentified Man #3: Mr. President, I move we adjourn.

SMITH: That was the sound of last month's Republican coup. They lured two Democrats over to their side and tried to take control of the Senate. Instead, they created a stalemate that lasted until yesterday.

The chief Democratic turncoat, Pedro Espada, apologized and said he was coming back to the Democratic Party.

State Senator PEDRO ESPADA (Democrat, New York State): This has obviously taken a toll on the institution, on our work, on the 19.5 million people throughout the state that witnessed chaos and dysfunction at its highest levels.

SMITH: Here's just a taste of what became a daily farce in Albany. After the coup, the Democrats locked the doors to the Senate. The Republicans snuck a key. The Democrats turned off the video feed, then the Republicans tried to fire the guy who runs it. The Democrats crept into the chamber at 6 a.m. so they could grab control of the gavel. The Republicans brought their own gavel.

That was the day both parties tried to hold simultaneous but separate legislative sessions, both sides yelling on top of each other. The standoff might've been comical, but it was costing local governments millions of dollars a day as they waited for their tax bills to be passed.

And meanwhile, the Democrats villainized their former colleague, Senator Espada. They called him a traitor and a thief, and as discovered by the New York Daily News even sent out this automated phone message to voters.

Unidentified Woman #2: Pedro Espada's campaign was convicted of stealing from the elderly to pay for his campaigns and was just accused of trying to steal millions of taxpayer dollars through bogus nonprofits. Get rid of Pedro Espada and get back to work.

SMITH: But yesterday not only did the Democrats accept Espada back, they made him their leader. That's right. The man responsible for keeping state government at a standstill is now the majority leader of the Democrats. Espada says he didn't return to the fold just because he was offered a plum job. He came back, he says, because he wants to reform New York State government.

State Sen. ESPADA: While we take credit for the chaos, give us credit for where we're at, what we stand for and what we're about to embark on - historic reform.

SMITH: As for the Republicans he doubled crossed, they conceded that they were now back in the minority. Republican Senator Dean Skelos seemed to say no hard feelings.

State Senator DEAN SKELOS (Republican, New York State): I guess he felt that, you know, they offered him the majority leadership and that that was in his best interest, so it was fine to go home.

SMITH: And they all got along happily ever after - for about 30 minutes last night. After passing a handful of bills, the New York State senators started bickering again. Republicans threatened to hold up every piece of legislation unless Democrats agreed to their reform plan. But they were arguing face-to-face in the same chamber, which in Albany, these days, counts as progress.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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