Dems lose control of New York Senate

A sudden revolt has the GOP back in power in the body after a short period of Democratic rule.

By Alex Koppelman

Published June 8, 2009 9:10PM (EDT)

Suddenly, no one seems to know who's in charge of New York's State Senate. For the past five months, it was the Democrats -- they'd ended more than four decades of Republican control last year, capturing a one-seat majority. But on Monday afternoon, two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr., from the Bronx, and Hiram Monserrate, from Queens, joined with Republican colleagues in order to vote their party out of power.

Now, there's a whole lot of chaos. Sen. Malcolm Smith, who'd been the majority leader, isn't ready to relinquish power -- and maintains that it hasn't really been taken from him. A statement from his office reads:

This was an illegal and unlawful attempt to gain control of the Senate and reverse the will of the people who voted for a Democratic Majority. Nothing has changed, Senator Malcolm A. Smith remains the duly elected Temporary President and Majority Leader. The real Senate Majority is anxious to get back to governing, and will take immediate steps to get us back to work.

And Monserrate, in a statement of his own, says he's still a Democrat and that he's part of what he's calling a bipartisan coalition. (Espada, the other Democrat to vote with the Republicans, has apparently been made Senate president pro tempore.)

It's also unclear why this happened. The early explanation from most observers is that it had something to do with the fight over same-sex marriage, which has been a contentious issue in the body recently. And it probably does have at least something to do with that, though the New York Times' City Room blog observes:

Why Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate suddenly defected on Monday afternoon was not immediately clear. Both men are under investigation by the authorities. The state attorney general’s office is investigating a health care agency, Soundview HealthCare Network, that Mr. Espada ran until recently. And Mr. Monserrate, who was indicted on felony assault charges in March stemming from an attack on his companion, would automatically be thrown out of office if convicted.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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