United They Stand Divided

Republicans had the final say last time the Dem's house was torn.

This is not the first time the Legislature has descended into chaos. 

As a young reporter, I saw a similar scene unfold back in 1965. 

It was a heady time for Democrats. After 30 years of Republican dominance, the Democrats had taken control of both houses. They rode to power on the coattails of President Lyndon Johnson's landslide reelection victory in 1964. But, because of divisions within the Democratic party, they couldn't agree on leaders for either the Senate or the Assembly.

For five weeks both houses were stalemated. The situation was complicated by intra-party warfare. There were self-styled reform Democrats, a movement originated after World War II with the aid of party icons like Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Lehman.

Upstate Democrats had their own agenda.  Then there were Democrats aligned with New York City's Mayor, Robert F. Wagner Jr. And the party bosses, from various counties, had still another agenda. They were in touch with their people in both houses and the attempts at deal making went on fast and furiously over the phone lines.We were fortunate in those days, perhaps, because there were no cell phones to make life even more complicated.

Journalists were as perplexed as the politicians. We had never seen anything like it. The Republicans were enjoying the spectacle. While the Democrats floundered in both branches of the Legislature, the Republicans jeered. But, try as they did day after day, the Democrats couldn't agree on who would lead them.

Sam Roberts in the Times quotes Alan Hevesi as writing of that time that the Democratic leadership ''could not resist the factional pressures that led to an enormously embarrassing and costly public battle.''
And then help came from an unexpected quarter. The Republican governor, Nelson Rockefeller, stepped in. He summoned Republican legislators to solve the problem.  It had been traditional for decades that each party sat on the sidelines while the other party settled its leadership battles.
But reporters were stupefied when, on Rockefeller's orders, enough Republicans voted to tip the balance for the Democrats the governor wanted. Anthony Travia, a tall, handsome Brooklynite, was elected Speaker of the Assembly and Joseph Zaretzki, a colorful Manhattan politician, became majority leader of the Senate. Both men had secured votes from both parties.
Rocky, as we called the governor, had worked wonders. By disregarding all precedent, he had managed to break the stalemate. Both politicians and journalists were deeply impressed by this governor, a back-massaging, warm-hearted politician who towered above everyone in Albany, as he moved the pieces on the  chessboard.

So, as Yogi Berra might put it, what we're seeing is deja vu all over again. There's nothing new under the sun, even in dysfunctional Albany, the capital of  political comic opera.

Contact Us