Gov. David Paterson promised to keep calling state senators until he can corral them all after his special session on Tuesday yielded few results. While the governor was able to coax the dissident factions into the chamber, the Democrats and the Republicans ignored each other, conducting their own unofficial proceedings.
With the regular session over, the day began with the Democrats arriving early and locking the Republicans out at first and then allowing them to enter, where they set up their own podium while the Democrats commanded the main podium.
“That was not a legitimate session,” said Malcolm Smith, who was removed as majority leader during the recent coup, responding to what the Republicans constituted as legal proceedings. “There were no jackets to the bills. There was no journal clerk here. There was no stenographer. They were going through a mock session, kind of what we did earlier today, getting prepared for this.”
Further confusion occurred when there were no actual numbered and printed bills, and the Democrats blamed this blunder on the governor’s office.
Pedro Espada Jr., who, along with Hiram Monserrate, engineered the coup, released a statement indicating that the Democrats were at fault for refusing to move forward with a bipartisan sharing of power. “Senate Democrat leaders are refusing to negotiate reforms that would allow our session to proceed today and beyond,” he said. “We are trying to negotiate a bipartisan governing agreement so we can go forward and get the members of the Senate Democrat conference in the chamber and get the people’s business done.”
Perturbed by the continuing impasse, Paterson said he would keep calling the senators back until they deal with the critical legislation facing the state.
“The people’s business has been delayed long enough,” the governor said. “We have to get back to completing this session’s agenda, and it’s important for us to continue and finish that job.” Paterson can demand their presence, but apparently he cannot make them vote. He slammed their “dereliction of duty.”
And without their votes, a list of important bills are in jeopardy, as the June 30 deadline approaches, including mayoral control of schools, same-sex marriage and the city’s request to raise its sales taxes.
Though Monserrate has changed his vote and returned to the Democratic ranks, it leaves the Senate deadlocked at 31-31, rather than the 32-30 advantage the Republicans acquired after the coup. Without a lieutenant governor, there is no one to break the tie. A number of voters and elected officials are dismayed by the stalemate, but hope that something can be done before it’s too late.
Council Member Inez Dickens of Harlem expressed her concern about the issue and praised the governor’s resolve. “I commend our governor for his strong leadership and for doing his best to keep watch over 19 million residents of New York State,” she said. “I pray that the senators will find a remedy to this difficult situation and get back to the business of serving, protecting and empowering the people of our great state.”
City Comptroller Bill Thompson, a mayoral candidate, also issued a statement about the chaos, with a focus on parental control of the New York City school system. “As a former president of the board of education, I aggressively pursued accountability in our public education system, beginning with a series of reforms in 1996…As city comptroller, I have continued to aggressively pursue accountability in our public education system and repeatedly have voiced myconcerns about the way mayoral control has been administered.
With its top-down approach, the current administration has sought to avoid debate and public scrutiny, while fundamental decisions regarding education reform have been made by executives with very little education background.”
Thompson said that he has been a consistent supporter of mayoral control but stresses a need for “greater parental involvement, stronger fiscal transparency and independent monitoring. I am hopeful that our State Senate will move swiftly to embrace a measure that incorporates the same principles.”
Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, president of the Hispanic Federation, also commended the governor’s actions, saying: “New York State is at a critical juncture for many important budget and legislative actions. Governor Paterson’s goal to continue to move the state forward requires action by the State Senate following the example already set by Speaker Silver and the members of the Assembly. There are many issues that remain to be addressed, in addition to those recently articulated by the governor.”