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GOP teams with dissident Dems to seize Senate control

Dean Skelos is trying to hang on to

Dean Skelos is trying to hang on to a majority in the Senate. (Credit: Steve Jacobs, 2010)

Republicans formed a partnership with breakaway Democrats Tuesday to maintain control of the state Senate, a daring political move that will apparently keep Democrats from seizing power even though they won a majority of seats on Election Day.

The move was announced Tuesday after weeks of speculation.

 Under the arrangement, 30 Republicans and six Democrats will form a “Majority Senate Coalition” to run the chamber come Jan. 1. Current Senate Majority Leader Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) will share the title of majority leader with Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) -- in an unorthodox arrangement that will see them alternate the title every two weeks.

   Their deal would leave the other Senate Democrats with, at most, 27 members, and would render one upstate Senate race, that has yet to be finalized, moot as far as Senate control.

   Skelos and Klein issued a statement calling it a “historic bipartisan partnership” and a “bold new chapter” for the state.

   “Senator Klein has proven to be a thoughtful and effective leader, and I look forward to partnering with him to move this state forward,” Skelos said in a statement.

  They said they will share control of what bills reach the Senate floor each day of the session, committee assignments and power to make appointments to state and local boards. They said they would also share negotiations over the state  budget – which is typically the main business of every legislative session.

  Members who will benefit said they were “taking politics out of policymaking.”

   “We will remake the New York State Senate with a bold new model, where partnership is valued over partisanship, and a focus on important issues will be at the forefront,” said Sen. David Valesky (D-Oneida), one of five dissident Democrats who have formed the “Independent Democratic Conference.” The sixth Democrat to join Skelos is Simcha Felder, who made his decision less than a week after winning in Brooklyn.

  The party brethren he left behind said the new arrangement was more of an old-fashioned power grab than a high-minded coalition.

   “This is not a coalition but a coup against all New Yorkers who voted for Democratic control of the Senate and a progressive state government,” said Michael Murphy, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn). “Sadly, the real victims of today’s announcement are the people of our state, whose clearly expressed desire for progress on a host of issue will now be scuttled.”

   It will take some delicate balancing to maintain the coalition in the upcoming legislative session, insiders said. For instance, Klein and Skelos said the coalition would be fiscally conservative – a nod to Republicans – but would advance "progressive policy issues." Klein last week said these could include a minimum-wage hike, something Skelos and Republicans have opposed.

   The partnership was made necessary by the Republicans' failure to maintain a majority of seats on Election Day. The Senate is the one bastion of state government controlled by Republicans.

  Alternately, the announcement was a culmination of bumbles for Democrats who found themselves leading in 33 of the 63 Senate contests after Election Day, seemingly poised to take back control after losing it in 2010.

   After Felder said he’d join the GOP conference,  the Independent Democratic Conference, led by Klein, began rolling out a series of statements in the last week indicating a deal with Republicans was near.

   Then, Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) disclosed he would become the first African-American to join Klein’s conference, a move some insiders saw as possibly blunting criticism about the new coalition.

  Finally, a recount in a too-close-too-call race for a Catskills-Capital Region district ground to a near halt, with Republican attorneys going to court to try to block hundreds of ballots that could toss the race to their opponents. That contest, pitting Republican George Amedore against Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk, race might not be finalized before New Year’s Day.

   Once seen as the key, the outcome now won’t matter in regards to Senate control.

     

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