The New York Senate will be led by a coalition of Republicans and a group of five Democrats who broke from the party to form their own caucus, marking the first time power in the chamber will be shared.
The breakaway Democrats will create a permanent caucus called the Independent Democratic Conference and share power with the Republicans over the senate agenda and state budget, according to a joint statement e-mailed today by both groups. Jeff Klein, the Bronx Democrat who leads the caucus, and Dean Skelos, the Republican leader from Long Island, will alternate every two weeks as president. The senate president decides which votes will come to the floor.
“Over the past two years, members of the IDC and Senate Republicans have shown that the best way to overcome New York’s biggest challenges is by working in a constructive, bipartisan way,” Klein said. “Legislating is a deliberative, cooperative process -- not a spectator sport.”
Republicans were in the majority the past two years. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a 54-year-old Democrat, relied on them to help push through a pension overhaul, budgets that cut more than $12 billion in deficits and a property-tax cap. He also persuaded four Republican senators to break from their party to support the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2011.
With votes still being counted in two Nov. 6 races, Democrats appeared poised to take over the majority for the first time since 2008, with 33 seats to the Republicans’ 30. If the five Democrats hadn’t broken away, the party would have controlled the entire legislature and the governor’s office.
The power-sharing agreement requires that Senate rules be rewritten to accommodate the plan.
Specifics of the plan are needed to better understand how the two groups will handle differences on policy, said Steven Greenberg, a pollster for Siena College in Loudonville, New York. Klein has said the conference supports increasing the minimum wage and public financing of political campaigns, both of which Republicans have rejected.
“It looks like a divorce with joint custody,” Greenberg said in a telephone interview today. “It’s easy to craft a press release. It’s much harder to actually implement.”
It’s not the first time Senate leadership has shifted with the changing alliances of some Democrats. After taking the majority in 2008, four Democrats -- Bronx Senators Ruben Diaz and Pedro Espada, Carl Kruger of Brooklyn and Hiram Monserrate of Queens -- refused to back Malcolm Smith as the chamber’s leader and threatened to join Republicans.
The leadership battle lasted through the first half of 2009 and ended with Democrats still in control, and critics calling it an example of Albany’s dysfunction.
Smith, a Queens Democrat, said today he’s joining the conference in its partnership with the Republicans. Klein was Smith’s deputy during the 2009 power struggle. Mainstream Democrats said the plan contradicts the will of the electorate.
“This is not a coalition, but a coup against all New Yorkers who voted for Democratic control of the Senate,” Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic Conference, said in an e-mailed statement. “The real victims of today’s announcement are the people of our state, whose clearly expressed desire for progress on a host of issues will now be scuttled.”