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Grisanti, IDC meeting clouds Senate picture

Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) in the Senate lobby

Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) in the Senate lobby at the Capitol in Albany on Tuesday, June 21, 2011. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -- The outlook into who will control the state Senate has become even murkier after a secret meeting between a Buffalo Republican who lost his GOP primary and the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference.

Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) met privately with Senate co-leader Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), the head of the Independent Democratic Conference, an official familiar with Monday's meeting told Newsday. The IDC shares majority control of the Senate with Republicans.

The IDC has enough campaign money and donors to help Grisanti run on the Independence Party line against Democrat Marc C. Panepinto and Republican Kevin T. Stocker. Grisanti, a former Democrat, has represented the Republican district for two terms.

Grisanti lost to Stocker in the Sept. 9 primary, which made the seat more vulnerable to a Democratic win in November and which was seen as a blow to the Republican conference led by Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). Republicans hold their only share of power in Albany through a bipartisan coalition with the IDC, which gives it a narrow majority over the traditional Democratic conference.

Any deal by Grisanti to join the IDC would further complicate the issue of who will control the Senate majority for the next two years. The IDC said it would work with Democrats to form a majority if they win enough seats, but IDC members, five at this time, could swing a share of the majority to either party if the final tally is as close as predicted.

The Klein-Grisanti meeting was a second potential setback in two days for Democrats. On Tuesday, Democratic candidate David Denenberg dropped out of his race for the 8th District on Long Island to succeed Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick). A lawsuit by Denenberg's former law firm accused him of defrauding a client by billing services that were never provided. Denenberg said that he would work with authorities to "establish the truth" and that the timing of the lawsuit was political.

"It makes a big mess even messier," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. "In the end, though, everyone has to wait until after Election Day to see what deals really can be made."

He noted that, even for an incumbent, winning on a minor party line is extremely difficult.

"Whether he can raise the money through a coalition deal and muster the organization and educate the public on how to vote for him they want to is a big, big challenge," Levy said.

The traditional Senate Democratic conference is banking on a pledge of support by Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

But Cuomo said last week that he hasn't decided whether to back Panepinto or Grisanti. In 2011, Cuomo promised to support the four Republican senators who provided crucial votes for his landmark legislation to legalize gay marriage. Other Republicans who supported gay marriage, led by former Sen. Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie), lost their seats because of conservative challenges.

Grisanti, Klein and a spokesman for the Senate Democrats had no immediate comment.

"We continue to monitor that race," said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif.

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