Senate Dems need to get it right this time
I have been warning you for some time now that the Democrats in the New York state Senate have the innate ability to screw it up. I am now in my 60s and I’ve seen it all before. I was a young man back in the 1960s, but there were these two dudes running for president. One was the Democrat, Johnson from Texas, and the other was Goldwater from Arizona who told us that he had the “conscience of a Conservative.” Johnson had an ad that showed a little girl picking the petals off a daisy followed by a nuclear explosion. That scared the pants off everyone, including me, and Johnson won in such a landslide that everything, as we now say, went blue.
Things went so blue in New York that for one short year, the Democrats took over the state Senate. That’s when the trouble began. Mayor Wagner’s forces fought Senator Bobby Kennedy’s forces to a standstill. The Democrats couldn’t pick a leader and the impasse dragged on for what seemed like forever. Finally, Governor Rockefeller exacted his political tribute and instructed his forces in the Legislature (both Assembly and Senate) to vote for the Wagner people. The result was that the voters saw the Democrats as a bunch of bumbling fools and within no time, the Republicans were back in the political saddle.
The question is whether history will repeat itself. This time, Barack Obama won big in blue state New York and swept a Democratic majority into the state Senate. No sooner had the Democrats picked up enough seats to own their body, a so-called “Gang of Four” emerged. Its composition included three Latino members who said, basically, that Hispanics in their body were being, well, dissed. It was pretty transparent that they were looking for personal power. Let’s see, in the gang we have Sens. Ruben Diaz, Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada. The fourth member is a guy named Carl Kruger who runs as a Democrat but behaves like a Republican. For some years he has been eating scraps at the Republican table and has been aptly nicknamed, “The Bad Kruger” to distinguish him from the “The Good Krueger,” a brilliant East Side of Manhattan Democratic senator who, ironically, is one of the people most credited with having brought the Democrats into the new maybe majority. For his perfidy, Carl “The Bad” Kruger was given the chairmanship in the Republican Senate of the Social Services Committee, something he very much wants to hold on to even though there are those who regard him as a Quisling (a famous Norwegian turn-coat during World War II.)
There have also been overtones from the Gang of Four that are decidedly racist. That’s because the leader of the Democrats is Malcolm Smith, an African-American. Said Sen. Ruben Diaz, a member of the gang, “There is concern that we have a black president, a black governor and we have a concern that we have to be sharing power.”
This time, however, that black governor, the highly popular David Paterson, is apparently putting his foot squarely on the throats of the Gang of Four. He is letting them know that he won’t tolerate their undermining of the Democratic ascendancy that he, Paterson, helped to get going when he was the leader of the Senate Democrats. In a huge Democratic year, these characters are doing themselves no good with their cheap, underhanded politics. What’s more, they show once again that Will Rogers was right when he said that he didn’t belong to any organized political party because he was a Democrat. If the Democrats don’t get it right this time they will properly be the laughing stock of New York. They will not deserve to hold power. Democracy will be thwarted because the Republicans will go back to pigging it up; giving their members everything while throwing scraps to the Democrats and redistricting themselves so that only they can win. All the promises of reform we’ve heard from the new Democratic majority will never see the light of day and that will include things like a new, improved environmental agenda with an expanded bottle bill and more gay rights. It is doubtful that the Democrats will ever have a chance like this again. All those unions that have inexplicably been supporting the Republicans will rejoice. Democracy will have been thwarted by a rogue band of four.
Finally, the Democrats had better be damned sure to follow Assembly Leader Silver’s lead and have an upstater as their number two person. Nothing less will be acceptable. The right man for that job is Senator Neil Breslin of Albany
Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 11/14/08