ALBANY - Chaos continued to engulf the State Senate Monday, with a key senator's decision to switch sides producing a historic stalemate that nobody appeared willing to break.
Eight senators from the two camps tried to broker a deal during a private meeting last night, after turning down an offer from Gov. David A. Paterson to convene a mediation session. They emerged after an hour to say that a State Supreme Court judge should decide who the rightful Senate leaders are.
Earlier Monday, the judge implored the senators to work out their differences. But the deadline he set came and went with no resolution. The parties are to be back before him at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Republicans' fragile coalition with two Democrats crumbled Mondaywhen Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D- Jackson Heights) bolted after Democratic senators elected John Sampson of Brooklyn as their de facto leader. Malcolm Smith of St. Albans remains the titular leader to preserve the party's court case against the GOP.
Democrats also moved against Monserrate's coup partner, Pedro Espada Jr. (D-Bronx), asking the judge to punish him for calling the Senate into a 15-minute session Monday, which they say violated a temporary restraining order. No business was conducted because 32 senators are required for a quorum and only 31 were present: Espada and 30 Republicans.
At a news conference, Sampson and Smith called for a "power-sharing" agreement to break the impasse and resume adopting bills before the regular legislative session ends June 22.
"We need to come together . . . to talk about a bipartisan team that will be governing," Smith said. "We'll have 31-31 and that's when we start building coalitions for issues."
However, Republican leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre told Newsday that any arrangement would have to recognize last Monday's election of him as majority leader and Espada as temporary Senate president. He also said he doubted Judge Thomas McNamara would overturn that vote.
"In terms of working on legislation on a bipartisan basis and moving things forward . . . there has to be an acknowledgment" of Monday's leadership change, Skelos said. He was careful not to criticize Monserrate, whose decision to rejoin the Democrats means neither camp has a majority in the chamber. Monserrate, a former New York City police officer and city councilman, was under intense pressure to desert the coup leaders.
Monserrate returned to the Democrats after they chose Sampson and in exchange for a pledge that a rent control bill and other issues would be brought to a vote. "This conference today is more united than ever; we are reinvigorated," he said.
Espada said he would not return to the Democratic camp. He also warned of a constitutional crisis if the judge negates last Monday's leadership vote.
Experts predicted the senators would wait for McNamara's ruling, and possibly that of the Appellate Division, before attempting to break the logjam. "The courts generally are reluctant to settle these matters, so the senators may have to work something out," said Robert B. Ward of SUNY's Rockefeller Institute of Government. "It's politically dangerous for all of them to let this drag on."