WXXI Top Stories
Thu June 11, 2009
Senate Stand Off Continues, as Coalition Falters
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, New York – The Senate coalition of thirty Republicans and two Democrats forced their way through an angry mob into the Senate chamber Thursday, and held a brief meeting. The remaining Democrats, who tried unsuccessfully to obtain a court order to stop the proceedings, called it a mockery and a sham.
It was a near- riot, as the 32 Senators had to shove their way through protesters, chanting "the Senate's not for sale" to enter the chamber for the first time since the coup on Monday. The protesters were organized by Citizen Action and ACORN. Coup leaders Senators Pedro Espada and Dean Skelos said they could not say where they had obtained the key to open the Senate doors, but Democrats say they did not hand it over.
Once inside, the Senators did not act on any bills, as they had promised to do. They discovered that a cabinet containing the necessary documents was locked, and they did not have that key.
They did begin with the traditional Pledge of Allegiance, and made a few speeches. One of the two democrats in the coalition, Senator Hiram Monserrate, who rose first, appeared to still be wavering in his commitment to the coalition.
"This chamber must not remain divided," said Monserrate. "So I'm going to excuse myself."
Monserrate then left. Afterward, he said he was seeking more Democrats to join in.
"You can't have a coalition government with two Democrats and thirty Republicans," Monserrate said. "It's just not reality."
Senator Monserrate said he was firmly behind Senator Espada, who was elected President Pro Temp by 32 Senators on Monday, but would not say whether he backed Republican Dean Skelos, who was elected Senate Majority Leader in that session.
Senator Espada says other Democrats are awaiting the outcome of a court challenge by the remaining democrats, before they decide whether to defect and join in the coalition.
And though Monserrate appeared to be trying to remain neutral in the dispute, Espada says he's not going back.
"My engines will never be in reverse," said Espada, "I'm moving forward."
There was no sign of the 30 remaining Democrats in the Senate, including Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith, who hasn't been seen in public since Monday. But a spokesman for Smith, Travis Proulx, says the session was a sham.
"It was a mock session," said Proulx. "It was a disgusting display of political gamesmanship."
The thirty Republicans plus two democrats say they intend to hold session again Monday, and actually pass some bills. Senator Espada says he may put a measure to legalize same sex marriage on the floor, and dare the rest of the Democrats, many of whom are strong supporters of the measure, to stay away then.
But those plans may now be on hold- late in the day the Democrats sought a temporary restraining order on any further Senate proceedings from a mid level appeals court- and won an injunction against Senator Espada acting as Temporary President of the Senate. Republicans insist that doesn't mean that their session will have to be canceled.