State Democrats lose out in Senate deal

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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On sidewalks outside an ultramodern luxury high-rise in Manhattan, a small cadre of Occupy protesters camped out Tuesday evening in the cold wind. Their target: One of the building's rich and famous residents: Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd Blankfein.

By an odd coincidence, the State Senate Democrats happened to be holding an invitation-only holiday party in a walnut-paneled library on the first floor of that same 1-percenter building.

Over the previous 24 hours, however, it was their conference that was left figuratively out in the cold, with the announcement of a ruling coalition by the current GOP majority and a half-dozen breakaway Democrats to take effect in January.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader John Sampson of Brooklyn moved quickly past the uniformed doorman along Central Park West as he later left the party. He just grinned and shrugged when asked about the coalition deal. "We're going to wait and see," he said. "Just wait and see." Other attendees sounded sure as they left that the pact would fall apart.

All this occurs with key election results yet to be certified -- and still a good chance that November's Democratic candidates will outnumber Republican candidates in the win column. And yet, Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) had evidently lined up votes to keep a key seat at the table.

From unusual circumstances spring myths, and in this case, it is easy to come away with misimpressions, such as:

Political parties fight for every office.

No. In Suffolk, for example, Democratic officials even spoke openly of their co-partisans having proven themselves incapable of running the Senate. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, de facto party leader, exchanged repeated and extended kudos with Skelos & Co. during this past campaign year.

This deal is precedent-shattering.

Well, Skelos' conference in 2009 proclaimed the same kind of "power sharing" in its famous procedural coup -- that is, they'd run the Senate in tandem with needed Democrats. This time, it seems more orderly and less shaky -- so far.

Senate Democrats in the majority in 2009 and 2010 drove Albany's dysfunction.

Corruption and folly stained their one-term tenure, but don't forget that scandal also enveloped Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David A. Paterson, Comptroller Alan Hevesi and former GOP Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Also, some big changes passed the Senate, including a cheaper Tier 5 public employee pension, Rockefeller drug law reform and hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts.

Power relationships are purely personal.

Geographic and ethnic considerations figure, too. A majority of the Senate Democrats are from New York City, with nearly half of the conference African-American or Latino. Five of the six "breakaway" Democrats are white lawmakers from areas where sympathizing with the GOP is far from unheard of. The sixth, Sen. Malcolm A. Smith (D-Jamaica), the first black majority leader, was bumped aside in the turmoil prompted by the 2009 coup and does not owe Sampson.

Cuomo's purported presidential chances are in play.Actually, his re-election would have to come first, in 2014, which falls during this upcoming legislative term. Cuomo will be looking for "progressive" victories -- but also to protect his GOP-approved fiscal measures. Does this coalition give him the maneuvering room he seeks? We'll see.