NY senators back to work after stalemate ends
(AP)- New York's Senate stalemate ended Thursdayas it started 31 days ago, with a freshman Democrat convulsing the62-seat house by switching sides and getting a powerful leadershippost in the majority. But it took less than 30 minutes on the Senate floor forpartisan fights to emerge, with Republicans initially threateningtwo-hour debates on each of more than 100 noncontroversial bills. Bronx Sen. Pedro Espada's return to the Democratic conferencegives Democrats a 32-30 majority for the first time since the June8 coup. As part of the deal, Espada took the title of Senatemajority leader. Espada's move came after Democratic Gov. David Paterson'sdecision to appoint a lieutenant governor to preside over theSenate, giving his party the upper hand in a chamber that's beendivided 31-31. "It was never about power, but about empowerment," Espada saidat a news conference. While the stalemate was over, at first the standstill wasn't.Republicans decided to slow the voting process because they werefurious Democrats didn't include Senate rules reforms on theagenda. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, of Long Island, saidthe GOP objected to the Democrats' plan to pass pork barrelspending - also known as member items, money that lawmakers cantake back to their districts for pet projects. After an hour of closed-door discussion, member items wereremoved from the agenda and both sides developed the framework fora rules reform agreement. Both will likely be taken up next week.Both sides said the rules changes will give individual senatorsmore power to move bills out of committees and to the floor for avote, among other reforms. Most of the bills passed late Thursday and early Friday were forlocal taxes that would keep local governments funded and running. For more than a month, the Senate's paralysis stalled action onmayoral control of New York City's schools, taxing authority insome municipalities and economic development programs. Paterson estimated that the state's municipalities lost as muchas $150 million during the conflict - most of it missed sales taxrevenue - including $60 million in New York City. "Today really is 31 days of chaos ending," said HiramMonserrate, a one-time dissident whose pending felony assaultcharge divided Republicans and Democrats early in the session."Judge us not on what has occurred over the last 31 days ... butjudge us on what we do with this extraordinary opportunity." Republicans accepted their return to the minority, where theywere for the past six months for the first time since 1965, butstill tried to claim some victory. They say the reforms will servethem well and increase the power of individual Senators. "Upstate is going to be a player," said Republican Sen. GeorgeMaziarz of Niagara County. "We have a conference of 30 strong andwith these reforms. ... We won't be rolled over." "We are definitely going to reform the state Senate like it'snever been reformed before," said Democratic Conference LeaderSen. John Sampson, of Brooklyn. Rank-and-file Democrats welcomed Espada back. That was acontrast to the name-calling of the past five weeks, when manyDemocrats said they would never serve under Espada in a leadershipposition. Others called him a thug and turncoat. "I don't think any of us have to accept everybody with openarms," said Sen. Neil Breslin, an Albany Democrat. "He has aright to be in the Democratic conference as an elected Democrat." When asked if it was hypocritical for Democrats to accept Espadaas one of their own after calling him a criminal, Breslin said,"There is a level of that." The self-described three amigos - Sens. Espada, Ruben Diaz andHiram Monserrate - said the end of the standoff is a victory forLatinos, providing them a greater voice. "This is a great achievement for our community. The greatestachievement our community has ever gotten," said Diaz, a BronxDemocrat and leader in the Latino community. The regular session ended June 22. Despite landing back in the minority, Republicans argue they'vehelped their constituents by insisting on reforms to give every NewYorker a voice in the chamber. They said any change couldn't havehappened without their actions. "I'm very disappointed, but in my mind this was never about apower grab, but about reform," said Republican Sen. Thomas Libousof Broome County.