The Circus Continues: Judge Temporarily Blocks NY Senate Takeover


albanyAn appeals judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent a new coalition from taking control of the New York Senate at least until Friday afternoon. The ruling late this afternoon by Appellate Division Justice Karen Peters blocks Sen. Pedro Espada, one of the dissident Democrats, from acting as Senate president. A five-judge panel is scheduled to consider arguments Friday afternoon on whether to let that stand. Meanwhile, attorneys are set to argue Friday morning before State Supreme Court Justice Thomas McNamara in Albany on who legally is in charge.The move comes hours after chaos and political theater resumed in Albany late Thursday morning. Angry protests and even pushing and shoving broke out as the coalition government took over the Senate chamber.

The Senate coup may have been bloodless when it happened on Monday, but the first attempt to open the Senate chambers on Thursday was ugly, dangerous, and unprecedented. Albany has never seen such chaos, such out and out disrespect for elected officials. Republican leader Dean Skelos and Democrat Pedro Espada were set upon by demonstrators who shouted “Senate not for sale!” as they filled the hallways when the locked Senate chamber doors were.

Other senators had to run a gauntlet of pushing, shoving, and screaming protesters. One senator was knocked down and another got spit in the face.

Once inside, the 32 members of the bipartisan coalition had a number of surprises. Democrats had locked up the bills, so there was nothing to vote on. And one renegade Democrat, Sen. Hiram Monserrate, appeared to be wavering in support of the coup. He and Espada were the only Democrats on the floor as the rest boycotted after state Justice George Ceresia refused the Democrats’ request to stop the coalition from opening the Senate and running its first session.

“I think it’s unfortunate how this discourse has really degenerated into what it has become,” Monserrate said during the session. “For us to be an effective bipartisan body, we need cooperation from both sides. These chambers must not remain divided.”

That left open the possibility that Monserrate would leave the coalition.

“My understanding and agreement to coalition government was under certain criteria. Those criterion included reform, reforms that we have laid out in a very appropriate manner that deal with decades and decades of dysfunction and unfairness in this house,” he said.

One Democratic power broker told CBS 2 that efforts to bring Espada back into the fold were also underway, but right after the session, Espada seemed to be standing firm.

“Now the ball is on court, the Democrats’ court, the Democratic conference court. They must show up to work or really have a lot to say to the citizens of the state that want their senators back at work,” he said.

Espada hinted at a coalition strategy for getting Democrats back in their seats – putting bills they care about like same-sex marriage on the agenda for a vote.

“I want to put on the active list a progressive agenda that’s been deferred for too long like same-sex marriage, put that on the floor and then have the Senators that either sponsored it before or defenders of the cause and [if they don’t] show up, I think that would be the height of irresponsibility,” he said.

Now comes the political pressure.

“Arm twisting would be a polite way to put it,” said Blair Hornor of the New York Public Interest Group. “Some of the things that are now probably prohibited by President Obama will be used.”

The Senate stands adjourned until Monday, so the big questions is whether coup members stand strong or fall apart under a barrage of arm twisting.

{SI Advance/ Newscenter}