Wednesday, February 14, 2007

NYS BATTLE ROYALE: Gov. Spitzer vs. Bipartisan Dysfunction

Politics in NY State have gotten very interesting of late. Democrat Governor Spitzer, elected by around %70 of NYS voters, is taking on both legislative houses, especially the Democrat-controlled Assembly, in his quest to "change everything" in Albany.

Gov. Spitzer lost the first round, failing to get the combined legislature to vote for one of three candidates his impartial panel had chosen to succeed Alan Hevesi as NYS Comptroller. Assembly Speaker Silver was set on having an Assemblyman take the seat, but none were among the final three chosen by Spitzer's panel. Silver said there were supposed to be five candidates on the final list, and because Spitzer only listed three, their deal was off. The Governor had no say on who was chosen, but had gotten Silver to publicly agree to select one of the panel's recommended candidates.

Instead, Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli was elected by the combined legislature to be the NYS Comptroller. Here's where the fun begins. (1 NY Post)

With a combined 212 members of the Senate and Assembly sitting in a joint session, Silver needed at least 107 votes to elect Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli comptroller.

The Democratic leader could only muster 104 votes from his Assembly delegation.

But the vast majority - all but three - of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno's Republicans on hand for the vote lined up with Silver and backed the Long Island Democrat he wanted for the job.

Here's the total breakdown: (2 blog)

Ex-Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli received: 104 votes from Assembly Democrats, 17 from Assembly Republicans, 29 from Senate Republicans and none from Senate Democrats (two of the 28 minority senators were excused/absent, Craig Johnson has not yet been sworn in).

So all but three Senate Republicans vote for a Democrat, but NONE of the Senate Democrats do. I must note that Gov. Spitzer appeared in commercials for Sen-elect Craig Johnson, just before his recent special election, leading me to think he would have sided with the Governor. So, what caused this strange situation?

The simple answer is the most common word used to describe NYS politics, especially the Legislature: Dysfunction. The underlying reason for the dysfunction is bureaucratic corruption of the NYS Legislature, of course, but dysfunction is the acceptable, almost diplomatic term that everyone seems to use.

Gov. Spitzer, whatever his faults, seems to be making an amazing effort to clean up Albany. He chose an interesting first battle, sticking his nose into a situation that he has no constitutional role in. Perhaps he isn't surprised to get his nose bloodied on this issue. He came back with several counterpunches: (3 NY Post)

"We have just witnessed an insider's game of self-dealing that unfortunately confirms every New Yorker's worst fears and image of all that goes on in the Legislature of this state," Spitzer said. "They returned to the cocoon of the Albany status quo that has driven their behavior for too long."

(4 NY Post)

"There’s nothing like losing a skirmish that leads me to want to win the next round more," Spitzer told a group of donors at a breakfast in Manhattan, according to a source at the event. "The knockout blow is coming very soon," he threatened - hinting at a possible coup against Silver.

Hours later, Spitzer tore into DiNapoli and Assemblyman William Magnarelli, a fellow Democrat, at a stop in the latter’s Syracuse district.

The new governor described DiNapoli as a nice guy but "thoroughly and totally unqualified for the job," according to the Syracuse Post-Standard’s Web site.

As for Magnarelli, who voted for DiNapoli, Spitzer called him "one of those unfortunate Assembly members who just raises his hand when he’s told to do so, and didn’t ever stand up and say, ‘Whose interest am I representing?’ "

"There is no ambiguity in my mind about who I am representing - the public. Nineteen million New Yorkers," Spitzer said.

Also yesterday, the governor canceled a lunch, scheduled for Monday, that was designed to get him and his staff better acquainted with Assembly Democrats. He also pulled out of a Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee fundraiser he was slated to headline next Thursday.

Assembly Majority Leader Ronald Canestrari (D-Troy) called Spitzer’s behavior "unsettling."

"I don’t think tactics that impugn our integrity work," Canestrari said. "We need to deal with these things in a rational, unemotional manner."

Another shocked Assembly Democrat said, "He’s f- - -ing nuts. He’s like a maniac. . . I first thought his aggressive thing was a posture, a strategy to make us the enemy, but I no longer think that. Now I think he’s got a very serious tempermanagement issue."

Capitol observers are warning that Democrats could become more entrenched in trying to block Spitzer’s agenda. "The thinking is, Spitzer will try and take out Shelly down the road," said one Assembly Democrat. "If you follow this path to its conclusion, it can only lead to one place - a leadership conflict."

Wait, it gets deeper: (5 NY Post)

Spitzer's war on fellow Democrat Silver and the Assembly escalated yesterday when those close to the governor said he'd like to see Silver gone.

"He has very serious concerns with him remaining as speaker," said a source familiar with Spitzer's thinking.

Spitzer spokeswoman Christine Anderson wouldn't say whether Spitzer wants a new Assembly speaker.

"Clearly Eliot thinks the relationship has been damaged and there's serious questions about whether you can trust someone who clearly goes back on their word," Anderson said when asked if the governor still has confidence in Silver as speaker.

"He has serious concerns about his ability to negotiate with him in the future."

Silver yesterday insisted he can work with Spitzer, and made it clear he has no plans to go anywhere.

"I feel very secure," Silver said when asked if his leadership is in jeopardy.

I wouldn't, if I were him. Gov. Spitzer then broke out the big guns: (6 NY Post)

In his ongoing attack on sleazy Albany politics, Gov. Spitzer said yesterday that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver should disclose the salary he pockets as an attorney for a major personal-injury firm.

Spitzer told The Post yesterday that "additional disclosure about secondary income is important" for the whole Legislature, and he plans to address the issue in the future.

Silver - who helps lead a Legislature often called one of the most dysfunctional in the nation - has worked "of counsel" to the Manhattan firm Weitz & Luxenberg since 2002.

The firm often represents slip-and-fall clients suing the state and city, and last year, posted an ad on its Web site seeking people injured at state parks.

Silver has vehemently insisted that his position does not create a conflict of interest.

The same story also notes this:

Under the state Constitution, which classifies legislators as part time, it's legal for a lawmaker to hold outside jobs.

At the same time, there is no law requiring those legislators to publicly disclose information about their outside incomes. In the past, Silver has refused to reveal his salary at the firm, which won at least $280 million for its clients from 1986 to 2003.

This is the interesting part of this whole situation. Exploiting loopholes in the NYS Constitution and law has allowed this Legislature to be legally corrupt. What Gov. Spitzer is doing now is still his opening gambit, I am sure. He has already gotten the nickname "steamroller" in some circles, because he called himself this in a rant to some state legislator. I have to believe he has some anger management problems, but if that's what it takes to get things done, I'm all for it.

I'm not switching back to being a Democrat, but I'll support Gov. Spitzer against the Senate Republicans, as long as he's also going against the Assembly Democrats. The place is a rat's nest, but the fault is in the laws, and perhaps the state constitution. Spitzer must change the leadership in the Legislature before any reform will be passed by that body.

My worst fears are that Spitzer is just doing this so that he can have more control, which is not an unreasonable assumption, given Republicans' experience with Pataki. They all come in on a bright white horse, claiming to cut taxes, or clean up Albany, in Spitzer's case. It took Pataki two years to cave to the corrupt power structure of Albany (health care workers' and Teachers' unions, as well as a huge lawyers' lobby, among others).

Spitzer's fight with Silver and Bruno is just a precursor to the bigger battles he must wage, if he really intends to "change everything" in New York State. I like him so far, but will watch for signs of a Pataki-type cave-in to the "status quo" bureaucracy. I haven't been as excited about a Democrat since I was one, though. If he does the right thing, and makes a dent in the bureaucratic corruption, he will earn my support for re-election.

Either way, he has already made for some fascinating political fireworks!

No comments: