WXXI Local Stories
Thu June 25, 2009
Senate Factions Attempt to Make Peace
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, New York – The gridlock in the State Senate started to ease Thursday, as feuding factions began talks on power sharing. And both sides united on one topic- they believe the governor's special sessions are unconstitutional, and they refused to consider any bills.
Perhaps it was Governor Paterson's threat to use the state troopers, through a court order, to force the Senators to attend session each day. Or maybe it was the prospect of spending a summer weekend in Albany, but on Thursday the bitter tenor of the exchanges between the two warring sides eased somewhat.
Senator Dean Skelos, who was elected Majority Leader in a controversial vote held June 8th, spoke after a meeting with leaders of the Democratic faction.
"The tone of civility can be returned to the Senate," said Skelos.
Senator Pedro Espada, who was elected President Pro Temp in the June 8th coup, says there is now a "spirit of cooperation" between the two factions. And he said both sides acknowledged they had brought "disrespect" to the institution of the Senate.
"It's something we don't want to continue," Espada said.
And Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith said "good faith" efforts were underway, and he hoped the talks would continue throughout the weekend, with the aim of reaching resolution by Monday.
Just hours before the third extraordinary session called by Governor Paterson was to begin, the two sides worked out an agreement to avoid the chaos of previous sessions.
The two factions would go into the chamber separately, and each would consider the governor's list of bills.
The Democrats went first. But the leader of the all- Democratic faction, Malcolm Smith, said that all of the Senators continue to believe that the governor's special sessions are unconstitutional, because the Assembly has not been called back. And he said there was no reason to proceed with passing bills that would later be considered illegally approved. The Democrats then gaveled out.
The Democrats then left, and the Republicans entered the chamber, and also gaveled in and out without considering any legislation. By 3:20, the entire business was done.
Senator Smith said Senators asked the governor to also call back the state Assembly on Monday and Tuesday, to ensure that the bills approved would stand up to a court challenge.
But the governor was not moved.
"I demand that the Senate stay in special session until an agreement is reached," Paterson said.
Paterson has already called another special session for 12 noon on Friday, and he says he's asking the State Comptroller not to pay the Senators' per diem travel and living expenses for their days spent in Albany. He's also asking Comptroller Tom DiNapoli whether the Senators' future paychecks can be withheld.
The governor was himself a State Senator for twenty years, and his hard line actions and criticisms in recent days have angered many Senators in his own Democratic party, some of whom have been saying the governor does not deserve to be elected next year. Senator Kevin Parker, of Brooklyn made disparaging comments about the governor's own past actions when he referred to Paterson as a "coke snorting, staff banging governor" said the governor had no right to moralize to state Senators.
Governor Paterson dismissed Parker's and others statements as "distractions", and said people are putting personal issues above the needs of the people of the state.
"This is governance versus chaos, not the governor versus the legislature," said Paterson.
The governor issued another proclamation to hold another special session at noon on Friday.