New Yorkers woke up this morning to read the news that the Republicans have taken back control of the State Senate in Albany. But GOP stalwarts in the Empire State and elsewhere should take no comfort from this development. While they may consider the breakup of the Democratic monopoly on power in the state a good thing, the method by which they accomplished this trick is nothing to brag about.
The slim Democratic majority in the State Senate was lost by virtue of the votes of two members of their caucus who decided to flip: Pedro Espada, Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monseratte of Queens. The two have one thing in common other than the fact that they used to be loyal Democrats: they are both in serious legal trouble. Espada is under investigation for the way he has run a non-profit health care network and was fined for not disclosing campaign contributions. Monseratte is under indictment for stabbing his female live-in companion with broken glass. Quite a pair, aren’t they?
As a result of the coup, Espada is the new Senate President. Thus, because New York currently has no lieutenant governor — since, as you may recall, David Patterson left that post to become governor after Elliot Spitzer resigned in the wake of his prostitution scandal — Espada would become governor if the bumbling Patterson was forced to resign or became incapacitated. All of which gives new meaning to the phrase “dumbing deviancy down.”
The plot was apparently hatched and pushed forward by Tom Golisano, a Rochester billionaire who has spent much of the last decade pushing for various state government reforms and last year helped finance the election of candidates — mostly Democrats — to effect these changes. When, surprise, surprise, the new Democratic majority didn’t dance to his tune and raised even more taxes, Golisano said he was leaving the state for Florida but began plotting his revenge.
After the reorganization vote (which the Democrats tried to stop by turning out the lights in the Senate Chamber) the new GOP majority enacted new rules about term limits for leadership positions and other reforms that will equalize the amount of pork barrel projects passed between the two parties. The switch could also undermine the Democrats’ plans for more tax-and-spend policies (though, to be fair, during their times in power, New York Republicans have been just as bad) and may make it even harder for the legislature to pass a gay marriage bill (though Espada is himself a sponsor of that legislation). Of course, if Espada and Monseratte are convicted of the crimes for which they are either under investigation or indictment, they will have to resign and the Democrats can seize the Senate back.
Odds are, most New Yorkers will see all of this as just another case of politicians scrapping for more power and patronage.
More importantly, anyone who thinks this disgraceful spectacle is a harbinger of a comeback by New York Republicans is dreaming. On the contrary, such shenanigans will convince no one that the party has an idea worth the name or even the slimmest grasp of political ethics. If Republicans are serious about cleaning up their act and providing a coherent alternative to the public in our new age of Obama, then this is exactly the sort of monkey business they should be avoiding.