Saturday, November 10, 2012

Senate Democrats aim for a makeover

Not all the results are in, but Democrats in the state Senate appear to have a narrow majority in the chamber for the first time since 2010.

Naturally, business leaders and Albany watchers are anxious. They vividly remember the chaos and dysfunction that marked the last time Democrats controlled the Senate, and they fear a return to those days of uncertainty.

But Senate Democrats claim to be remade. At least a third of their conference is new. And even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not campaign for a Democratic majority and is believed by insiders to prefer a divided Legislature, Senate Democrats say they are ready to work with the governor on his agenda.

“I think it’s going to be different than it was before,” said Ted O’Brien, a Monroe County legislator elected Nov. 6 to replace retiring Republican Sen. Jim Alesi. “Some of the worst actors are gone, like Pedro Espada, Hiram Monserrate and Carl Kruger. I would anticipate it will be a different feeling this time.” (Those three Democratic senators were all convicted and removed from office.)

Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who ran the conference’s campaign arm this year, said that with four apparent pick-ups, the chamber will be in their control. He noted that Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat who heads the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, has said he would never vote for a Republican majority leader. (Mr. Klein released a statement on Wednesday that was non-committal on the leadership issue.)

Mr. Gianaris said it was important to bring all stakeholders to the table to assure them that this Democratic majority would be different from the last, when some senators’ demands and threats wreaked havoc in the conference. At the same time, he said the election results were a “mandate” for his conference to pursue the policies they view as vital to the future of the state.

“The mandate was as strong and unified as one I’ve ever seen in my entire life in state politics,” he said. He listed gun control, women’s issues and campaign finance reform as among those policies their conference would pursue starting next year.

Their message to business leaders and those worried about the state’s economic future was one of partnership and stability: “We’re anxious to move forward with a pro-jobs agenda that the business community would appreciate, including targeted tax incentives for small businesses.”

Republicans claim that when Democrats were in the majority last time, they raised taxes and fees in the state by some $14 billion. But Mr. Gianaris said that was a lie perpetuated by a Republican Party struggling to hold on to its last powerful perch in New York.

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