The fight for State Senate Majority Leader was once again thrown into chaos this week when Senator Malcolm Smith thumbed his nose at a deal with southern Brooklyn State Senator Carl Kruger and his notorious “gang of three.”
Although the two parties had brokered a deal last week, Smith announced Wednesday that he was suspending negotiations with the three legislators.
Kruger and fellow gang members Pedro Espada, Jr. and Ruben Diaz, Sr., who are both from the Bronx, agreed to support Smith for Majority Leader if he would agree to a list of bi-partisan reforms.
The changes included splitting the Majority Leader and President Pro-Tempore positions, which are usually held by the same person, and seating the State Senators alphabetically instead of by party affiliation.
Steps were also taken to make sure that Senators can move their bills onto the floor regardless of their political affiliation. When the Republicans were in the majority, Democrats complained that they couldn’t get their bills moved out of their Republican controlled committee because of their party standing.
The agreement also made Kruger chair of the State Senate Finance Committee, which came with a $34,000 stipend.
The bump in salary would make him the third-highest paid Senator in Albany, falling just short of the majority and minority leaders.
But, as he claimed victory last week, Kruger said he didn’t see his new position as payment for his vote.
“There are no rewards, no winners and no losers in this,” he told this paper. “None of us approached this with any scheme. All we wanted to do was bring some bi-partisan democracy to a body that has been labeled as one of the most dysfunctional legislatures in the nation.”
“It was just a by-product that we obtain these positions,” he said of the new position and hefty stipend. “But while that’s good and important, what’s more important was that we made these changes.”
For the first time in decades, Democrats regained control of the State Senate by obtaining 32 of the 62 seats. Republicans have the remaining seats.
Yet with such a thin margin, every vote was needed in the Democratic caucus to name Smith Majority Leader.
That’s when Kruger and fellow gang members created their independent caucus and demanded that no one – Republican or Democrat -- was going to get their vote unless their demands were met.
While Smith agreed to the changes, he had a hard time selling the package to his fellow Senate Democrats, many of whom said that they would rather be in the minority than to kowtow to Kruger’s demands, according to published reports.
The deal continued to splinter until Wednesday, when Smith said that the gang of three was more interested in “self aggrandizement” than reform.
“I thought this was about reform and about real change,” Smith said at a press conference. “And it became very clear to me over time that this was more about personal interests and not the reform that the Senate Democrats ran on.”
In a statement released by his office, Smith said to continue negotiations with the Gang of Three “would reduce our moral standing and the long-term Senate Democratic commitment to reform and to change.”
“The members of this Conference have come a long way to consider the demands placed on the table,” he continued. “But frankly, we would rather wait two more years to take charge of the Senate than to simply serve the interests of the few. New York State cannot afford the type of self-serving politics being proposed and I will not be the leader to sacrifice what is right for New York for a quick political solution.”
Calls to Kruger’s office for comment were not returned as this paper went to press.
In an interview with the Daily News’ “Daily Politics” blog, Kruger said that “outside forces” forced Smith to back away from the deal they had.
“It's not what leadership is all about and I would hope the members of his conference weigh in on the issue and recognize the importance of keeping your word,” Kruger said. “We had a deal that provided for Hispanic empowerment and substantive reform on how the Senate operates.”
“At the end of the day, I would hope that professionals act professionally,” he said.
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