Editorial: Independent caucus could help in NY State Senate

Members of the State Senate work in the Members of the State Senate work in the Senate Chamber as the legislative session winds down at the Capitol in Albany. (June 20, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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It's always been clear that the long-running one-party domination of each of New York's legislative chambers isn't a good system, and allowing each minority party a voice would make for better government. Could the key to empowering both caucuses in the Senate be . . . a third caucus?

Last session, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) led a 33-seat Republican majority that could pretty much do as it wished. Now, if the current election tallies for two Senate seats, one of them very close, hold up, the Republicans will control 31. The Democrats, with 32 seats, would have control of the chamber -- and the really cool offices, all working photocopiers and 33 percent of the power in Albany.

The Democrats thought they had one more seat, but newly elected Simcha Felder, who ran on the Democratic line in Brooklyn, announced Tuesday he had been wooed over to the Republicans. Felder has been unabashed in saying he'll support anyone who will give him the most goodies for his district, and it looks as if Skelos made the best offer.

But four Democrats who formed the Independent Democratic Conference last year are still romancing both parties, and jockeying for position and power. They will, quite likely, be the bloc that decides which party will be in power in the Senate and who will grasp the majority leader's gavel.

The last time something like this happened was in 2008, when four breakaway Democrats called "The Amigos" cajoled Democratic leader Malcolm Smith into ceding them positions in exchange for their support. The session devolved into a nightmare as those four (three of whom have since been convicted of crimes) continued to broker their votes cynically and poison the process.

But a breakaway caucus run for the benefit of the people, rather than that of its members, could have a positive role in Albany. It could force the Senate leader to allow legislation from both parties to reach the floor -- a novel concept in this legislature. It could vote based on the merits of bills, rather than the orders of leaders. And it could loosen up some of the traditional upstate-downstate, city-suburb and even Democrat-Republican grudge matches that have often stood in the way of progress.

This foursome is led by Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx and Westchester. He is joined by David Carlucci of Rockland County, Diane Savino of Staten Island, and David Valesky of Syracuse. Political insiders say that while all four, and especially Klein, are ambitious, none exhibit the graspingly greedy tactics of the Amigos.

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There is much to be done in Albany: campaign finance reform, further strengthening the ethics reform that was recently enacted, paring back pointless and unaffordable mandates on municipalities and school districts, and creating a better business climate to enhance job creation and entrepreneurship.

If the members of the Independent Democratic Caucus wield power to achieve these goals, seeking progress for the state rather than perks for themselves, the results could be quite positive indeed.

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