The New York State Senate Switch: Back-Room Politics At Its Best

I just spoke to a Democratic source in Albany about the stunning flip of the New York state Senate from Democratic to Republican control. The situation still appears to be murky as to exactly why two Dems defected, but it seems at this point that the shake-up was likely not triggered by the gay-marriage debate. Instead, it probably had more to do with good old-fashioned back room politics.

For one thing, one of the two switchers, Pedro Espada, has said he supports gay marriage, though at the same time he was quite interestingly against bringing it to the floor immediately. And the other switcher, Hiram Monserrate, hasn’t disclosed his position.

The source pointed out to me that there had already been a scare over who would control the chamber back in December, with the “Gang of Four” Democrats, which included Espada and Monserrate, threatening to hand power over to the GOP just as the Dems had seemingly taken charge. One of those Democrats who made the threats, Ruben Diáz of the Bronx, is a staunch opponent of gay marriage — and his non-involvement now suggests that this was not the tipping point.

But let’s take a look at the two Dems who have now given their organizational votes to the GOP — these guys are characters, to the say the least, with one of them having been recently indicted for domestic violence and the other now on at least his third party switch during his career.Granted, the source is a Democrat who obviously has an ax to grind with these two troublemakers. But the facts seem to speak for themselves and point to back-room dealing from two Democrats especially practiced at back-room deals.

Sen. Hiram Monserrate of Queens is currently under indictment for alleged domestic violence, and could be removed from office if he is convicted. As the New York Post pointed out at the time of the indictment, his girlfriend initially told police that she had been assaulted, then changed her story after she’d found out they were going to arrest him. Monserrate will now be the vice chair of the Rules Committee, and is officially still a Democrat.

As for the other, state Sen. Pedro Espada of the Bronx, this is the really tricky bit. Espada had previously switched to supporting Republican control, then was defeated for re-election by a Democrat in 2002. He then came back in 2008, winning the Dem primary in another district — and immediately put his organizational vote up for grabs before ultimately backing the Dems for a while. Espada will now be the Senate President, and is officially still a Democrat.

“So there’s a guy who might lose his seat for being convicted of a felony,” the source said of Monserrate. And on the other hand is Espada, who has switched from the Dems to the GOP, then back to the Dems, and now again to the GOP. “And this time he was like, ‘Oh no, I’ll be a Democrat this time,'” the source said.

Another “Gang of Four” legislator, Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, had been appeased by the Democratic leadership by giving him the chairmanship of the Finance Committee. “He was bought off nice and neat,” the source said. “Espada and Monserrate were apparently not bought off enough.”

(Another fun part of this is that Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith says he’s still the Majority Leader, declaring this maneuver to be “an illegal and unlawful attempt to gain control of the Senate and reverse the will of the people who voted for a Democratic Majority.”)

Late Update: This post initially said that Monserrate represents the Bronx; he in fact represents Queens.