Four Democrats key to NY Senate control

November 5, 2008 5:58:11 PM PST
The fight for control of New York's Senate that Democrats thought they won in historic fashion Tuesday stretched into Wednesday and could go on for weeks with a group of four maverick New York City lawmakers essentially holding the key to the balance of power. The four Democratic senators met Wednesday with GOP leaders who hold the Senate majority at least until Jan. 1, according to Republicans and Democrats familiar with the meeting. The meeting was to discuss how the four might serve the GOP and what's in it for them should they defect, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because leaders wouldn't confirm the talks.

The four independent-minded Democrats - often called the "Gang of Four" - historically have not been afraid to break ranks and support Republicans. They also have clashed at times with Sen. Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens, the presumptive next majority leader, and reportedly refused to attend a Democratic conference Wednesday called by Smith.

The senators are Ruben Diaz Sr. and Pedro Espada Jr., both of the Bronx; Carl Kruger of Brooklyn; and Hiram Monserrate of Queens.

Democrats knocked two Republican incumbents out of the Senate on Tuesday to take a 32-30 advantage in the chamber, the first time in 40 years Democrats have controlled the Senate. It also put Democrats in charge of the governor's mansion and full Legislature for the first time since 1935.

On the table at Wednesday's meeting was a possible power-sharing agreement by Democrats and Republicans or a kind of hostile takeover of the Senate by Republicans using the swing Democrats to maintain control of the Senate when a majority leader is elected in January.

If Republicans kept majority power, they could then reward the four Democratic defectors with lucrative committee chairmanships.

Republicans said no deals were struck in the meetings.

Meanwhile, Democrats privately said that Democratic Gov. David Paterson has intervened. They say he struck at least a tentative deal with enough of the so-called "Gang of Four" Democrats to preserve the Democratic majority for at least a year under Smith. The Democratic mavericks, however, would be free to vote their conscience on specific bills even if that is contrary to the Democratic line.

Both sides said the balance of power might not be resolved for weeks.

In the meantime, a race too close to call Tuesday could be pivotal, if the Republican incumbent loses his narrow margin when the votes are canvassed and when absentee ballots are counted.

Sen. Frank Padavan had 50.4 percent of the vote Tuesday in his Queens district, which is now dominated by Democratic voters. If Padavan loses to James Gennaro, the Democratic majority would increase to a more formidable three seats, which would require agreement by all four of the runaway Democrats for Republicans to choose a GOP majority leader.

Smith, Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos and Paterson refused to comment Wednesday.