Smith’s deal to win senate majority post unravels

By Howard Koplowitz

An  agreement between state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and three dissident senators that set the stage for the southeast Queens politician to become leader of the Senate in January has fallen apart.

Smith, now the Senate minority leader, suggested in a statement Wednesday that the demands of the so-called “Gang of Three” would compromise the integrity of Democratic members.

“We are suspending negotiations, effective immediately, because to do so otherwise would reduce our moral standing and the long-term Senate Democratic commitment to reform and to change,” he said.

He took aim at one of the demands of gang member state Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), an opponent of gay marriage who did not want a bill approving such unions to be introduced in the Senate.

“Real reform cannot and should not ever include limiting the civil rights of any New Yorkers,” Smith said. “Those issues must be a part of the legislative process.”

Smith had the support of the three maverick senators last week,which gave him enough votes at the time to become the leader of the state Senate in January.

The agreement reportedly included Smith giving one member of the so-called “Gang of Three” — Sen.-elect Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) — the title of majority leader with Smith taking the title of president pro tempore.

The president pro tempore position is the official title of the leader of the Senate.

Those two titles have normally been held by the leader of the Senate. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the current majority leader, holds both titles as did his predecessor, former Sen. Joseph Bruno (R-Saratoga Springs).

But The New York Times reported Tuesday that Espada said he was suspending his support for Smith amid reports the Queens senator was removing some responsibilities that normally come with the majority leader position.

Smith needs 32 votes to become leader of the Senate and currently has 29 supporters.

Of the agreement reached last week, Diaz said, “we shook hands, we got a done agreement and I met with men of honor.”

He said the meeting with Smith included Gov. David Paterson, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), Buffalo billionaire Tom Golisano and fellow gang members Espada and state Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn).

Diaz, a strong opponent of gay marriage, did not say if Smith had promised to keep a gay marriage bill from coming to the floor of the Senate, as had been reported.

Asked about the roles the gang members had been expected to play in the Senate before the agreement unraveled, Diaz said, “I have to wait until Malcolm Smith announces it.”

Kruger was reportedly offered the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee, which has an important function in the budget process, but a woman who answered the phone at his Albany office would not confirm the reports.

The Gang of Three kept the balance of power in the Senate in limbo shortly after the Nov. 4 election by reserving support for Smith.

At the time, they were joined by Sen.-elect Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), who announced his backing of Smith last month after Smith agreed to create a Hispanic caucus. The gang was concerned with the lack of influence by Hispanics in Albany.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.


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