Mike Groll/AP
Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens

New York State Senate Mired in Chaos

June 11, 2009 06:26 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
A coup in the New York state Senate results in finger pointing and a potential lockout, and calls to mind previous instances of Senate shenanigans.

Smith Holds the Keys

Following a coup that has tentatively left Republicans in charge of the New York state Senate, the new majority could now face being "locked out" of official chambers, reports Newsday. Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) was booted from his position as Senate chief this week, but still has the keys to the Senate chamber and is opposed to reconvening if Republicans remain in command.

The coup seems to have been masterminded by Tom Golisano, a billionaire who owns the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, and who is now being accused of "using his money to control government," according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Golisano claims Senate Democrats were not displaying enough "fiscal discipline" or following through with reforms they'd promised to enact. But others say Golisano reacted strongly after a meeting in March with Smith during which the Queens senator "spent the session 'playing on his Blackberry.'"

New York State Gov. David Paterson told the press that if the Blackberry tale is legitimate, "that's certainly rude, but that's a reason to change the Senate? Give me a break," reported Democrat and Chronicle.

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Background: New York state senate coup

The coup occurred when two Senate Democrats, Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate, joined the Republican side in a move that was "brokered" by Golisano, according to CBS. Because the Senate was not in session when the coup happened, Democrats claim it was not legitimate, and plan on fighting it in court. Furthering the chaotic situation is the fact that both Espada and Monserrate "have legal troubles."

 "I don't care if I'm the only one standing, but someone has got to stand up and say that this is wrong," Paterson was quoted by CBS as saying at a news conference.

The New York Times City Room blog reported on the coup's resulting rule changes: "six-year term limits for the president and majority leader," movements toward equalizing budgets and pork barrel project mandates, all of which "were pushed by Tom Golisano."

Related Topic: Senate oddities

In May 2003, Texas Democratic state legislators skipped town, heading to Oklahoma to "to block an attempt by Texas Republicans to redraw the state's U.S. congressional districts," Voice of America reported. The vanishing act was an attempt by the Democrats to prevent Republicans from conducting official business; at least 100 of 150 house members must be present "to debate and pass laws," according to legislature rules.

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