Well, that was short-lived. Democratic control of the state Senate appears to have ended after just five months after two dissident Democrats voted with the GOP to throw the Democratic majority out of power in a parliamentary coup.
The decision by Senators Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens to join the coalition gave Republicans a 32-30 voting edge on hastily introduced measures that changed the leadership structure. Neither Espada nor Monserrate, who is facing charges of assaulting his girlfriend, changed party affiliation.
The move gives Republicans a 32-30 voting edge in the chamber
“It's a great day for the state of New York,” said Republican B. Thomas Golisano. The Rochester billionaire, who has run unsuccessfully for governor three times, has spent millions to support candidates he feels will reform Albany to become more democratic and supportive of business.
The move was secretly in the works for more than five weeks and Golisano was a major player in creating the coalition, said a Republican who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak for the GOP senators.
Shortly after the dramatic political coup, Republicans voted to replace Senate Majority leader Malcolm Smith .
The dissenting Democrats said their move was based on "gridlock" in the chamber. It is not clear whether the issue of same-sex marriage played a role in the leadership dispute. A gay marriage bill recently passed in the Assembly, and vocal opponents in the Senate, led by Dem. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, has said he is determined to block the legislation. Smith supports the gay marriage bill. However, some Republican votes were needed in the Senate to pass the bill.
Another major issue has a hard deadline. A law giving the New York City mayor greater control of New York City schools is scheduled to expire at the end of the month unless the full Legislature acts. Senate Democrats have sought to take away some of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's authority while maintaining overall mayoral control. But Bloomberg and the Senate's Republican conference have been very close on policy and the billionaire mayor has funded many of their campaigns.
“Once again, Albany dysfunction has raised its ugly head,” said Democratic Gov. David Paterson, who said the power grab disrupts the critical last two weeks of session. “This is despicable.”
The fiery leadership fight erupted on the floor of the Senate around 3 p.m., as Monserrate and Espada said they were forming a "bi-partisan" coalition with 30 Republicans in the closely divided chamber. Within an hour of the move, Republicans named Espada temporary president of the Senate Dean Skelos of Nassau County vice president and majority leader. Skelos is the former majority leader.
“A new bipartisan, coalition is being established that is bringing real reform to the Senate right now,” Republicans said in a statement emailed to reporters.
Malcolm Smith gave a press conference this evening saying the move was not valid. "It is sad the Republicans would choose to disrput the business of this house," he said.
Earlier, his office issued a statement saying “This was an illegal and unlawful attempt to gain control of the Senate and reverse the will of the people who voted for a Democratic Majority. Nothing has changed, Senator Malcolm A. Smith remains the duly elected Temporary President and Majority Leader."
Pedro Espada claims he is now the Senate leader, saying the people of New York deserve "a government that is not in gridlock." Espada said he supports gay marriage, and the leadership upheaval had nothing to do with that issue.
“I wish I could be jubilant,” said Espada, who would be the Senate's first Hispanic leader. “We know that we had five months of sheer chaos ... this leadership vacuum has been filled today in a bipartisan way.”
In a statement, Monserrate said “I am a life-long Democrat and remain a loyal Democrat. After today’s proceedings, I am proud to form a bi-partisan coalition that has elected the first Latino President of the New York State Senate, my colleague, the Honorable Pedro Espada Jr."
President, vice president and majority leader are the most powerful positions in the chamber. With them, the bipartisan coalition can direct legislation and reassign committee and leadership posts.
Democrats, who regained control of the chamber last November for the first time in 43-years, tried to leave the floor after the move, even turning off the lights briefly.
They are expected to challenge Monday's action in court.