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Sampson named de facto leader of Senate

ALBANY - State Senate Democrats named John Sampson of Brooklyn their de facto leader Monday, dumping Malcolm Smith of Queens to win back the support of a key senator.

Sampson, first elected in 1996 and head of the Judiciary Committee, will serve as conference chairman and run the party's day-to-day operations in the Senate. Smith of St. Albans remains majority leader and temporary president but wouldn't say for how long.

PHOTOS: Chaos in Albany

Sampson's elevation succeeded in wooing back Hiram Monserrate of Jackson Heights, whose desertion last week helped Republicans regain control of the chamber. His coup partner, Pedro Espada Jr. (D-Bronx), remains in the Republican camp for now.

Sampson and Smith acknowledged only having 31 votes and needing to hammer out a "power-sharing agreement" with Republicans. State Senate leaders were expected to meet Monday at 4:30 p.m. to try to settle their differences.

Four senators from each camp will meet privately. The session replaces one called by Gov. David A. Paterson, his spokesman said.

Among the senators expected to attend are Republican leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre, Sampson, Smith and Espada, a Skelos ally and temporary Senate president.

Skelos also said he wasn't prepared at this time to except a power-sharing agreement with senators lead by Sampson and Smith.

Sampson, who turns 44 on Wednesday, pledged to "get back to work" and "deal with the people's agenda." He listed property tax relief, education and housing issues as top priorities.

Calling Monserrate "my brother," Sampson said the coup had drawn attention to bills that had been relegated to the back burner by Smith.

Monserrate has been pushing for an extension of rent control in New York City. "This conference is more united than ever . . . we are reinvigorated," he said. "I'm here to work united with them."

Meanwhile, State Supreme Court Judge Thomas McNamara in Albany ordered the parties to return to court Tuesday.

Afterward, Paterson's top lawyer, Peter J. Kiernan, said, "The legislature's business and the public's business has to be done, and the governor asked me to tell the court that he is convening them today and will keep them as long as possible and work as hard as necessary.

". . . Part of the report that will be given to the judge tomorrow [Tuesday] will be the progress that is made today [Monday]," Kiernan said. "And hopefully there'll be a resolution, and if not, continued efforts in the next days . . . They're going to meet as long as they were making progress."

Richard Emery, the lawyer for the Senate Democrats who brought the lawsuit after last week's surprise GOP-led coup, called this the "appropriate way to be redressed" and said other legislatures have power-sharing arrangements like the one forced by the Senate standoff.

John Ciampoli, representing the Senate Republicans, declined to remark on or add to what McNamara had said. Earlier Monday, McNamara expressed concern about the judiciary's inserting itself into the legislative infighting."The reluctance of courts to become involved in matters of coequal branches of government is historical . . . done with great reluctance," he said in court.

Ciampoli offered the judge DVDs presumed to illustrate the validity of the surprise vote last week to reinstall Skelos as majority leader and make Espada Senate president.

Monserrate and Espada last week helped shift the balance of power in the Senate when they elected to side with 30 Republicans to form a new voting majority.

Espada said he has no plans to return to the party despite Monserrate's latest maneuver.

"I spoke with my colleague . . . and he confirmed that he will be rejoining the Democrat conference as he was unable to convince additional Democrats to join the bipartisan reform caucus at this time," Espada said in a prepared statement.

Monserrate's move was first reported by the Daily News. "I'm coming home," Monserrate told the Daily News, the paper reported Monday.

"I said I wouldn't return to the caucus without a leadership change among the Democrats, and that has happened," Monserrate said.

Staff writers Dan Janison and John Valenti contributed to this story.

PHOTOS: Chaos in Albany

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