The Democratic Party Is the Party of My Birth
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
For some 30 years I dreamed of the Democrats controlling the New York State Senate.
You see, back in 1978 my friend Gary Ackerman was elected to the State Senate from Queens and served there for four years. He would whine how depressing it was to be in the minority. He would complain how the party in power treated the Dems terribly. He would work hard to try to get Dems elected to take the majority.
As the 70’s became the 80’s, the Dems were hopeful, they were “getting real close.” And so it went for 30 years. They were “this” close. The Dems were always scrambling; just a couple of seats and they’d be in control and do the “right” thing.
Well, in 2008 along came Barack Obama with wonderfully long New York coattails. And for the first time since 1965 the Dems had control of the New York State Senate. And Queens’ Malcolm Smith won the big prize as the head of the Democratic Caucus along with the perks, plums and titles that went with it. Joe Bruno, who had stepped down facing corruption accusations, was gone forever and this Queens Democrat had the chance of a lifetime.
It all went downhill from there.
Smith accomplished little during the Spitzer term and less during the Paterson reign. And then last summer lost control of his caucus as Bronx State Senator Pedro Espada and Queens’ Hiram Monserrate defected to the Republicans in exchange for titles and money. Smith was overthrown and under the leadership of John Sampson, the Dems paid up and repurchased the defecting two amigos. Sounds like prostitution? You betcha it does!
Then the Dems, after buying back Monserrate with the return of his committee chairmanship and lulu, brought him up on charges and expelled him. Then the AG brought charges of corruption in the misuse of millions in State money by his Bronx health clinic against Espada who had been given the title of “President of the Senate” – next to the Lieutenant Governor in the line of succession – along with millions for his clinic and member items, in order to buy his return.
And friends, that’s basically what the Dems accomplished in the almost two years they have been in control of the Senate as well as the Assembly and Governor.
There is still no budget. There is still no operator for Aqueduct’s racino. There is still no reform and this time, it’s my party at fault.
So when election time rolls around and the Dems tell you to give them money or vote Democratic so they can retain control of the State Senate, take a deep breath and if you don’t gag, ask them what the hell they intend to do with it.
Voters Shun Incumbents; Budget Is 50 Days Late
By HENRY STERN
By HENRY STERN
Widespread public dissatisfaction with government has recently been reflected with the defeat of two long-term legislators, the retirement of a score of members of Congress, and unexpectedly narrow margins for some incumbents over underfunded and relatively unknown challengers. This appears to be a national trend.
Senator Robert F. Bennett of Utah had held his seat for three terms since he was first elected in 1992. His father, Wallace F.Bennett, had been a senator from Utah for four terms (1951-75) and a leader in the Mormon Church. Robert was defeated at a Republican state convention May 8, and under state law, cannot compete in the Utah primary. Two new candidates, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, each received nearly 40 percent of the delegates’ votes and will face off on June 22 for the Republican nomination. Utah last elected a Democrat to the Senate 40 years ago; it is a very red state. Bennett came in third despite a nominating speech by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the best known Mormon in American politics and an anticipated contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
Congressman Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, who lost in a Democratic primary on May 11, had served for 14 consecutive terms (28 years). He was first elected in 1982 on the retirement of his father. Like Bennett, Mollohan was a second generation legislator. His father, Robert, also served 14 terms, from 1953 to 1983, missing only one term due to the Eisenhower landslide over Stevenson in 1956. The Mollohans represented the northern part of the state, the cities of Wheeling and Morgantown and the rust belt, for a total of 56 years. Alan Mollohan is the 24th richest Congressman, reporting assets of between $7.1 to $29.3 million. In recent years, he has been involved in controversies over earmarks for groups he organized, his own financial disclosure and other ethical issues.
In 2009, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named him as “one of the 15 most corrupt members of Congress, claiming that he had steered hundreds of millions of dollars to family, friends, former employees, and corporations in exchange for contributions to his campaign and political action committees.”
Among the Senators who are retiring are Evan Bayh of Indiana, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of Indiana. Dodd received a mortgage from Countrywide Savings and Loan on very favorable terms. He was one of the Friends of Angelo, a reference to Angelo R. Mozilo, CEO of Countrywide, who sold his enterprise up the creek to the Bank of America in 2008 for $4 billion in stock.
Bayh and Dorgan were well regarded senators, particularly Bayh, who was touted as a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, or possibly in 2012 if President Obama does badly enough. His father, Birch Bayh, was a Senator from Indiana for three terms (1963 to 1981). Birch Bayh competed in the presidential primaries in 1976, coming in third in Iowa and third in New Hampshire before withdrawing. That was the year Jimmy Carter was nominated and elected.
Some New York State legislators are also departing voluntarily. They include Assemblywoman Ann Margaret Carrozza (who represents a Queens County district but has a house in Glen Head in Nassau) Michael Benjamin of the Bronx, Joan Christiensen of Syracuse, and Susan John of Rochester. Senator Dale Volker of Buffalo (and former chairman of the Finance Committee), and Senator Thomas Morahan of Rockland County are retiring as well.
Morahan is the state senator whose election Speaker Sheldon Silver was so eager to prevent in 1999 that he pressured the Assembly into repealing the commuter tax, under which people who worked in New York City but lived elsewhere were taxed 45/100 of 1 percent of their income to help compensate the city for the services they received (e.g. police and fire) while they were here. That tax had been very helpful in balancing the city’s budget. Silver’s decision was gleefully agreed to by the Republicans, led by Governor Pataki and Senate leader Joseph Bruno. The enormous error in judgment by the obedient Assembly Democrats has already cost the City of New York about $4 billion, and the cumulative deficiency rises each year.
The departures from the state legislator do not, however, affect the major players, and if there are to be any changes in the upper ranks at the Capitol, they will have to be the result of citizen action. Although there is enormous public dissatisfaction with the legislature, the route to changing its members is complex and arduous. Nor is there any assurance that new members, once elected, will crawl into bed with the power structure. That has happened before; sometimes it takes years, other times the transformation takes place within weeks as rookies conclude that the best course for them is to “work from within” to change the system.
Although the Assembly is heavily Democratic, there is considerable doubt as to who will control the New York Senate next year. The Republicans, now down by 32-30, must win two more seats to over-ride Lieutenant Governor Ravitch’s tie-breaking vote and win control of what used to be described as the upper chamber. But if Democrats keep defecting to the Republicans to gain larger lulus and higher offices, as Espada and Monserrate did in ‘09, no one-vote majority is safe. Such a slim majority also requires strict party discipline: a unanimous vote by the majority members is required to pass any legislation, since 32 votes are needed and the minority has generally been unified in its opposition.
The New York State budget is now more than 50 days late, and the squabbling houses and governor do not appear to be close to agreement as of this writing.