Senate takeover temporarily blocked

June 11, 2009 9:44:30 PM PDT
An appeals judge is issuing a temporary restraining order to prevent a new coalition from taking control of the New York Senate at least until Friday afternoon. Democrats want to block any change in Senate leadership after Republicans and two rogue Democrats launched a power struggle Monday.

The ruling late Thursday afternoon by Appellate Division Justice Karen Peters blocks Sen. Pedro Espada, one of the dissident Democrats, from acting as Senate president. A five-judge panel is scheduled to consider arguments Friday afternoon on whether to let that stand.

Meanwhile, attorneys are set to argue Friday morning before State Supreme Court Justice Thomas McNamara in Albany on who legally is in charge.

Earlier Thursday, it was a chaotic mess of pushing and shoving unfolded on the third floor of the state capitol.

After three days, the Senate chamber remained locked tight, but Republicans said time's up.

"Those doors are gonna come open," Sen. Dean Skelos said. "It's called democracy. The majority prevails. It's very simple 32 to 30, 32 wins." And so Republicans finally unlocked those Senate chamber doors.

As protesters kept chanting, they hustled in their slim 32 to 30 majority and quickly went into open session as protestors fumed outside.

"These folks are very angry because we wanted a change and now we're going backward! To 70 year of Republican rule," said Karen Scharff of Citizen Action.

Democrats failed to stop Thursday's session so they simply stayed away. Their seats remained empty.

"Obviously, the two days that Republicans have tried to take over the Senate have been among the two most distasteful days the chamber has seen in decades," party spokesman Austin Shafran said.

Back inside it was a short session. One of the two democrats siding with Republicans abruptly left. Is he with Republicans or not?

"I'm here to work as a New York State Senator. I'm a Democrat and proudly so," State Senator Hiram Monserrate said.

"I'm very unclear whether the Senate is switched or not, because the little bit I've heard is Monserrate is still very ambivalent about his position," said Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic Chair.

If Monserrate goes back to his party, everything's deadlocked

"It's a whole change. It's exciting. It's democracy right here," Roy McDonald said.

The other breakaway Democrat, Pedro Espada Junior, had personal business to attend to Thursday night. Someone broke into a home he owns in Mamaroneck.

While Republicans strutted, a few lawmakers were still angry at the messy scene, further proof of Albany as a circus.

"How can anything as ridiculous as this happen in our state capitol? I've been in the state capitol 37 years. I have never seen anything that came close to this," State Senator Frank Padavan said.