This week, New York took one more step towards becoming a one party state. For the first time in four decades, Democrats took control of the state Senate, locking the GOP out of all levels of state government.
As you might remember, this outcome was not a foregone conclusion: After Democrats seized a 32-30 majority on November 4th, three of their state Senators threatened to bolt the caucus for somewhat unclear demands - a mix of identity politics and policy disputes.
This created a chaotic situation in which Democratic leaders begged the Gang of Three to stay in the party, at first offering them a stunning amount of concessions before retreating when the caucus’s rank and file protested.
At the end of the day, Democrats managed to cut a deal with Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sen.-elect Pedro Espada and Sen. Carl Kruger to get them to vote for Democrat Malcolm Smith as Majority Leader. On Wednesday, the deed was consummated and the state Senate was officially taken over by Democrats.
The biggest question mark that now remains is gay marriage. Governor David Paterson, like his predecessor Eliot Spitzer, was interested in legalizing same sex unions - and this was the main reason Ruben Diaz, a staunchly homophobic minister, threatened to back Republicans.
Rumors have been circulating that Democrats told Diaz they would not introduce a gay marriage bill over the next two years if he stuck with the caucus. The party’s leadership has denied having made any such promise, but Diaz has indicated that discussions with party leaders have reassured him about the reform’s prospects.
Democrats are already saying that too many of their members would vote against the bill for gay marriage to pass the state Senate. That might be true (they do, after all, only have a 32-30 majority), but for such information to be leaking this early clearly suggests that the Democratic leadership has no intention of pushing gay marriage very hard in the coming months.
The second question mark is the leadership change’s impact on Mike Bloomberg. The New York City Mayor might not be a partisan Republican, but he has frequently clashed with Albany Democrats, and state Assembly President Sheldon Silver takes great delight in squashing Bloomberg’s plans.
Over the past year, Bloomberg donated a lot of money to Republicans to help them retain control of the state Senate and he campaigned on behalf of GOP incumbents. For Democrats to now seize control of the state Senate will make Bloomberg’s ties to Albany even more raucous.
This could make it tougher for him to convince Albany to pass New York City-related bills for which Bloomberg needs state approval (this is especially the case for taxation-related issues). And don’t forget that Bloomberg could remain in Gracie Mansion until 2013 now that he changed the city’s term limit laws, so this will affect him in the long term.
On the other hand, Bloomberg could gain a huge boost soon if David Paterson appoints Caroline Kennedy to the Senate. The former first daughter’s connections to the Mayor have caused some prominent Democrats to express worry, and Kennedy refused to answer when Politico asked whether she would support Bloomberg’s Democratic challenger in this fall’s election. If she becomes Senator, Kennedy would be unlikely to do much to help the Democratic nominee, further reducing the party’s hopes of regaining City Hall.
Then again, Caroline Kennedy might no longer be favored to win Paterson’s nod. The Village Voice now thinks that the front-runner might be Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand! Could it be that the main alternative to a woman with little to no public record (but who, we are told, leans to the liberal side…) are two conservative Democrats (Reps. Gillibrand and Israel)? It’s hard for progressive Democrats to know where to turn. On the other hand, the list of those who are known to have received Paterson’s Senate questionnaire keeps getting lengthier. The latest known contender is Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. [Update: Kennedy and Paterson held their first in person meeting to discuss the seat yesterday.]