N.Y. Democrats, GOP Argue Over Who's In Charge
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now, in Albany, New York, the doors of the State Senate are locked this morning, and Democrats are headed to court to keep them closed. It's all part of the legislative chaos that has paralyzed New York State since Republicans tried to gain control of the state Senate on Monday. They lured a couple of Democrats to their side and declared that the GOP was in charge. Suddenly, they, with the Democrats, had a majority.
NPR's Robert Smith reports from Albany.
ROBERT SMITH: Usually, the last two weeks of a state legislative session are when most of the hard work gets done. In New York, the end of the session has turned into a playground scuffle - Republicans and Democrats sticking out their tongues and whining, you're not the boss of me.
Governor David Paterson tried to break it up yesterday.
Governor DAVID PATERSON (Democrat, New York): This is getting a little ridiculous. They've got to act like adults here, and they've got to address this issue.
SMITH: The issue is that no one can agree exactly what happened in the state Senate on Monday. The Republicans, in the minority, had secretly lured two renegade Democrats into their club, and when the majority was looking the other way, they pounced.
Unidentified Man #1: Keep it quiet.
Unidentified Man #2: I have the floor, Mr. President.
Unidentified Man #3: Mr. President, I move we adjourn.
SMITH: You could hear the Democrats frantically calling for adjournment as the Republicans voted themselves into the majority.
Unidentified Man #4: Roll call, roll call on the vote.
SMITH: So did they accomplish the vote? The Democrats said: did not. The Republicans said: did, too, then the Democrats turned out the lights and locked the doors to the Senate. They thought they had the only keys, but yesterday one of the dissident Democrats, Pedro Espada, said that he was going to lead the Republicans back into the chamber, and he held up his own key.
Unidentified Man #5: You've got the key.
State Senator PEDRO ESPADA (Democrat, New York, Acting Senate President): I've got the key.
Unidentified Woman: Where'd you get it?
SMITH: He didn't actually use it. The Republicans had vowed yesterday to hold their own Senate session, even if they had to convene on the lawn of the New York State capitol. But that also didn't happen. It turns out, one of the defectors, Hiram Monserrate from Queens, was considering returning to play on the Democratic team. But at the end of the day, he emerged with the Republicans and tried to explain to reporters that he wasn't switching parties, just allegiances.
State Senator HIRAM MONSERRATE (Democrat, New York): Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You've got to - you have to listen to the answers, and we should be civil, all of us. I am a progressive Democrat. I voted for reform because the leadership that we had prior was ineffective.
SMITH: Meanwhile, the Democrats are trying everything they can think of to retain control. They're asking a judge for an injunction. They're organizing protests. They are hurling insults. A spokesperson for the Democratic leader, Malcolm Smith, referred to the two rogue senators as a thief and a thug.
For those of you not following New York State politics, I'll decode that. Senator Pedro Espada is being investigated for illegal campaign contributions, and Senator Hiram Monserrate has been charged with assaulting his girlfriend. And those two now hold the balance of power in the state of New York.
Governor David Paterson, who admitted that he has no power in this particular squabble, urged both sides to walk back into the Senate, take a leadership vote and then stick with it. He reminded the legislators that there are still important issues that need to be considered: health care, property tax relief and gay marriage.
Gov. PATERSON: Going back and forth every week, playing the two conferences against each other has totally humiliated this process, even by Albany standards.
SMITH: And that's saying something. A few years ago, a legal think-tank named New York state government the most dysfunctional in the nation. But at least back then, they knew who was in charge of the dysfunction.
Robert Smith, NPR News, Albany, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.