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Rogue Democrats upending balance of power in Senate

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 11/17/2011, 2:51 p.m.

Are they "rogue" or are they not?

Four Democratic New York State senators, led by Jeffrey Klein, are rumored to have made a peace deal with the GOP, which could hurt the Democrats' chances of returning a majority to the Senate in Albany.

Klein pulled fellow State Sens. Diane Savino, David Carlucci and David Valesky into his independent caucus after leaving the Democratic conference following the primaries. He claims he is protesting State Sen. John Sampson's leadership, but some are blaming Klein for dividing the Democrats.

According to a report by the New York Daily News, all four senators were handed committee chairmanships by GOP Majority Leader Dean Skelos. In exchange, the Republicans are not putting up or funding candidates to run against the senators in their districts. Klein has denied any truce and labeled his group's actions "bipartisan governing."

Klein calls his group the "Independent Democratic Conference," and told the Daily News he thinks he is proving how you can govern in a bipartisan fashion.

A spokesman for Klein, Rick Azzopardi, also denied the rumored truce. "It's not true. That's the beginning of the end of it." Klein failed to speak directly to the AmNews.

Klein and Diane Savino have drawn the ire of some Democrats this year, especially when it was revealed that the two are a romantic item. Their courtship was even profiled in a late April issue of the New York Times. Senators have blamed their relationship for Savino leaving the conference.

Back in February, Savino told the local Staten Island news website SIlive.com that she and Klein lean conservative on a few issues, but her relationship with Klein had nothing to do with her joining his independent caucus.

"It's a little insulting, don't you think?" said Savino. "That I'm not a serious legislator? That I would make a decision like that based on my personal life? That is the caliber of the people I decided I did not want to be a part of anymore."

In the same article, where she confesses to dating Klein, she was asked what it was about Klein that she liked. Her response? "He's a nice, white, Jewish lawyer [and] senator. It's hard to beat that combination."

With reports that Senate Democrats are considering primary challenges against the rogue senators despite being in debt, what will this mean for the current political landscape? Former political reporter and TV correspondent David Diaz, who now lectures on media and politics at the City College of New York, gave his perspective to the AmNews.

"It gives those Democrats in the state Senate who are restless another way to look at the possible leadership because obviously, with this other caucus, Klein is a pretty ambitious guy and has had his mind on a higher office. He seems to be making a move. If he can draw many of the Democrats with him, he can wind up being the kingmaker. It certainly throws a wrench into business as usual."

However, Diaz still finds it somewhat perplexing that Klein started this mini-uprising. He thinks someone else may be behind this.

"I wonder if this has the hand of Andrew Cuomo," Diaz said. "I wonder if he's the unseen hand in this deal. His agenda of reform has basically been to bludgeon [Assembly Speaker] Sheldon Silver and Sampson, and not as much the Republican leadership.

"With all of the moves he has made since he got elected, he seems to get his way on almost everything he wants. Then to suddenly see people who are tried and true Democrats, certainly in the case of Klein, for him to suddenly be the guy pulling this new 'gang of four' card, I just wonder. It just seems like he would need more substance behind him to do that and not worry about retribution."