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Another State Senate split amongst Dems

Jan 06, 2011 6:43 am
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="State Senators Jeff Klein, left, Diane Savino, David Carlucci and David Valesky announce their formation of a breakaway Independent Democratic Conference outside Klein's office at the Capitol yesterday in a photo by the Times Union's Rick Karlin."][/caption]Is infighting the new minority mantra? As Gov. Andrew Cuomo was being praised by Senate Republican Jim Seward for the "upbeat high school pep rally" tones of his first State of the State speech yesterday, Senate Democrats were watching their 32-30 minority dwindle to 32-26 as four Democratic senators broke away from their party's conference to form an independent caucus, announcing that leaders of the Democrat conference -- specifically John Sampson, D-Brooklyn -- have failed and the group couldn't support them "in good conscience." In a piece in today's Times Union, veteran reporter Jimmy Vielkind reports that Sen. Jeff Klein, one of the four who represents Westchester County and the Bronx, said. ""This isn't a power play. This isn't about the right price, it's about the right thing." Joining him in the Independent Democratic Conference were Sens. Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Valesky of Syracuse and the just-elected David Carlucci of Rockland County. All indicated disgust with Sampson's leadership, with the inability "to move forward a legislative agenda responsive to the people's needs" and, Valesky noted, the "unacceptable" revelation that it exceeded its budget by at least $7 million.

Over the past two years when Democrats had a rare majority in the Upstate-dominated Senate, they were also plagued with caucus problems at several points when their members decided to caucus separately, or with the GOP minority, turning the tables on their own majority status several times.

"We're a national laughingstock. Everybody recognizes that," Savino said. "We are going to turn Albany upside down."

The move does not immediately tip the balance of power in the chamber. Republicans took a 32-30 majority in November. The four said they would vote for neither Sampson nor Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, of Long Island, in a leadership vote that Skelos is expected to win.

Klein resigned last week as deputy majority leader. He served as the number two leader under Sampson and Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, as well as the floor leader. His ambition to be elected conference leader is an accepted fact in Albany politics, but electoral losses among some of his allies in the ad hoc "Klavino" sub-conference -- Craig Johnson of Long Island, Darrel Aubertine of the North Country and Bill Stachowski of Buffalo -- left his hand weakened.

In making this move, Klein is positioning himself apart from a group beset with trouble: in addition to the overspending, the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee -- which he chaired, but was also heavily influenced by Sampson and his loyal aides -- is at least $3 million in debt. Sampson and Smith were both named in a negative report by former Inspector General Joseph Fisch regarding their conduct during the awarding of a contract to develop video slot machines at the Aqueduct Race Track. Smith is also being looked at in criminal probes.

Klein said he contacted Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was "supportive." He also spoke with Skelos, who said he "recognized" the conference. The four promised to work with both sides to advance an agenda of capping property taxes, forming an independent panel to draw district lines and protect women's reproductive rights.

While Republicans were happy, Democrats reacted coolly.

"I think they made a bad decision and I hope they come back. I hope it's just smoothing over bad things," said Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Bethlehem. "We can't have the divisiveness that we had two years ago with the four amigos, and there's a lesson to be learned from two years ago, the fact that we're in the minority now."

He was referring to the formation of the "amigos" -- Hiram Monserrate, Pedro Espada, Ruben Diaz and Carl Kruger -- and the way they withheld support for then-leader Malcolm Smith until they were given political plums. In June 2009, Espada and Monserrate defected to the GOP, causing a month of chaos.

Breslin still supports Sampson, as did Sen. Daniel Squadron, who during a brief organizational session offered a resolution re-installing Sampson as the chamber's leader, saying he "maintained the good will of colleagues on both sides of the aisle." (The resolution, of course, failed.)

Sampson said Wednesday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his first State of the State speech, "should not be about politics. Our common goal should be progress - working with Governor Cuomo to move our state forward."

Read more: http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Senate-Democrats-in-revolt-938613.php#ixzz1AFnH3u8k
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