By Ivan Pereira
Reports of party infighting between state Sen. Malcolm Smith (Dâˆ’St. Albans) and fellow Albany leader state Sen. Jeff Klein (Dâˆ’Bronx) over the possible head of a Democratic majority have been exaggerated, according to those close to both state leaders.
The rumors of the power struggle emerged after the Senate’s Democratic conference announced it planned a special meeting in Albany Wednesday. Both men denied that there would be a “coup” over who would lead the party if the Democrats gained control of the upper house in Albany.
“It’s a rehashing of old rumors, possibly started by Republicans, to try to disrupt change that the Senate Democratic reform would bring in Albany,” said Austin Shafran, spokesman for the state Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
Klein reiterated the same sentiment to Gannett News Service Monday, saying he has respect for Smith.
“I have every intention, and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity, to nominate Malcolm Smith for majority leader,” Klein said.
Members of the state Democratic conference choose the senator who leads the majority or minority in an internal election. It is unclear when that vote will take place, according to party insiders.
Evan Stavisky, a Democratic consultant for the Parkside Group, said the news was most likely created by the senate Republicans who he claimed were getting nervous over their possible change in power in January.
“It’s completely ridiculous,” he said of the rumors of a possible coup. “If the Democrats take the majority, Senator Smith will be the majority leader, clear and simple,” said Stavisky, who is representing Councilman James Gennaro in his bid to oust State Sen. Frank Padavan (Dâˆ’Bellerose).
State Sen. Shirley Huntley (Dâˆ’Jamaica), who is running unopposed for her second term, called the monthsâˆ’long speculation “political nonsense” because Klein and Smith have had a good working relationship.
She said she has gotten no phone calls from any of her Senate colleagues about voting against Smith for the majority leader spot.
“They seem to be supportive of each other,” Huntley said.
The senator said she has already chosen Smith as her pick for majority leader if the Democrats take control of the Legislature in January. Huntley said she has seen Smith handle the challenges that Albany will be facing, citing his experience and ability to fix the problems.
“It’ll be a much larger operation. I think he is capable [of] handling it,” she said. “There are many of us that will be supportive of him.”
City Councilman Leroy Comrie (Dâˆ’St. Albans) agreed. He noted that many New York leaders both in and out of the city admire Smith for his hard work on a variety of issues, including crime and the economy in addition to serving the needs of the southeast Queens community.
“I think Malcolm would make a great leader,” he said. “He’s always had a reputation to reach beyond party lines.”
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by eâˆ’mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 146.