Dems, GOP Unflinching in Senate Coup Talks

The Senate has lost almost two weeks of the session because of the dispute

The Republican leader in a coalition that has seized control of New York's Senate said today there is talk of changing rules to try and get the Senate working again -- as the nine-day-long leadership crisis throws some laws into limbo and leaves others struggling to survive.

But, in order to pick up the legistaltive work, Democrats will first have to accept that the coalition rules the chamber, Republican Sen. Dean Skelos said.
Sen. Pedro Espada, the lone remaining Democrat in the coalition, said the group is talking with Gov. David Paterson and the Democratic conference about a way to return the Senate to action.
But Democratic Sens. Eric Schneiderman and Jeffrey Klein say the coalition must recognize the current 31-31 split in the Senate and agree to a new bipartisan system for the chamber.
The Senate has lost almost two weeks of the session because of the dispute.

Meantime, the law that gave Mayor Michael Bloomberg sweeping control over New York City schools is expiring in a few days. A bill to legalize gay marriage in the state is awaiting a vote. And the city is hoping for approval of a sales tax hike to plug a budget hole.

The power play has eaten up more than a week of the session. Government watchdogs say it remains to be seen whether all the legislative work can be finished.

After a judge ruled Tuesday that the two sides must iron out their own leadership stalemate, Democrats suggested a daily rotation of Senate leadership -- one day a Democrat rules and the next day a Republican rules. And so on and so on.

They're also calling for a creation of a six-member, bi-partisan committee that would determine which bills would be considered, as well as a prohibition on anyone making a casting vote, otherwise known as a tie-breaker vote.

But the Republicans continue to say the leadership has already been determined, and enforced Tuesday when State Supreme Court Justice Thomas McNamara Tuesday refused to rule on the matter.

The Republicans held a 32-30 voting edge in the chamber after Democratic Senators Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada tried to form a bi-partisan coalition, but Monserrate waffled and returned, leaving a 31-31 voting stalemate that still lingers.

Meanwhile, Espada plans to file a formal complaint against Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson as the criminal probe into Espada appears to be widening.

Espada has been under scrutiny for alleged misuse of funds in his political campaign, and Johnson is also investigating whether Espada lives in his Senate district, which is required. Espada lives in a co-op in the Bronx, the district he represents, but also
spends much of his time at what he refers to as a second home in Westchester County, the Daily News reported.     

The dissident Democrat who helped Republicans take over the Senate said he'll ask the Inspector General on Wednesday to investigate Johnson for "prosecutorial misconduct and selective prosecution."

Johnson is seeking Espada's travel vouchers, proof of residency and payroll records, but the Democrats appear to have already made such a request, the Daily News reported.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office has joined Johnson's probe, as both parties are looking into whether the Soundview Health Center that Espada founded inappropriately funneled cash to Espada's campaign, according to the paper.

In a statement, the Bronx politician hinted that Johnson was doing political dirty work for the Democratic party. Espada denies any wrongdoing.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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