Early this week, according to a knowledgeable Democratic source, members of the state Senate’s black caucus held a private meeting to discuss the ongoing leadership crisis in their chamber, which – even if it resolves in favor of the Democrats – could result in the ouster of the highest-ranking black elected official in New York.
That would be Senate Minority Leader John Sampson, who inherited his position in a compromise deal struck during the 2009 coup. (At the time, the two Democrats who flew the coup, Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada Jr., cited the majority leader, Malcolm Smith, as part of their motivation for leaving the conference, and also a big hurdle preventing their return).
A Democratic insider referred to Sampson as the “reluctant leader,” suggesting he was pushed into the position he currently holds – one that I think most would agree is quite difficult and tantamount to herding cats, given all the racial, ideological and geographical divisions in the Democratic conference.
Now that the Democrats are poised to potentially take back the majority (assuming the Republicans don’t manage to either 1) win the 46th SD, or 2) attract more disaffected Democrats like Senator-elect Simcha Felder to their side of the aisle, the conference finds itself in a situation disturbingly similar to their post-coup position.
Sen. Jeff Klein made it quite clear when he struck out on his own back in January 2011 that he was doing so largely because he could no longer support Sampson as leader. And, of course, it was no secret that he wanted to be leader himself, but just couldn’t cobble together enough votes to take the post, thanks largely to the racial politics of the conference. (More on that in a moment).
So now the Democrats would very much like Klein and his three fellow IDCers – David Carlucci, David Valesky and Diane Savino – to return to the fold – or, at the very least, vote for a Democrat for majority leader.
But there’s no way Klein would vote for Sampson, who has been widely speculated to be on his last legs as leader for months now – a speculation that has continued despite the fact that he just presided over a campaign effort that might have returned his party to power.
It’s also highly unlikely, if not downright impossible, that Klein would vote for Sen. Mike Gianaris, to whom Sampson gave Klein’s old post as head of the DSCC, also in January 2011. To say that these two don’t like one another is an understatement.
But without the IDC, the Democrats definitely can’t be in the majority. The same can’t be said of the Republicans, who only need to win that one 46th SD race and keep Felder happy to retain control of the chamber.
Hence, the speculation about who might replace Sampson as leader. Several names have been thrown out, including Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who reportedly has been lobbying colleagues for the job, and Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is seen as another compromise candidate.
Both of these women (and it would be historic for a woman to be selected to lead a legislative conference in Albany) are black.
The racial politics of the Senate Democratic conference is a topic that makes people uncomfortable, and as a result, it’s one that’s not often broached. But it’s a very real issue, and one that could end up costing the Democrats the majority if they don’t figure out a way to address it.
In January, the racial breakdown of the Senate Democrats will be:
- Nine African-Americans: Sampson, Hassell-Thompson, Stewart-Cousins, Smith, Eric Adams, Kevin Parker, Velmanette Montgomery, Bill Perkins, and James Saunders (who defeated Shirley Huntley in the September primary).
- Six Latinos: Adriano Espaillat, Martin Dilan, Jose Serrano, Ruben Diaz Sr., Gustavo Rivera, and Jose Peralta.
- 15 whites: Tony Avella, Toby Ann Stavisky, Joe Addabbo, Mike Gianaris, Daniel Squadron, Liz Krueger, Brad Hoylman (replacing retiring Sen. Tom Duane), George Latimer (replacing retiring Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer), Neil Breslin, Ted O’Brien (won the seat held by retiring GOP Sen. Jim Alesi), Tim Kennedy, and the 4 IDC members.
It’s also possible two more white Democrats will join the conference if they win their respective yet-to-be-called races: Terry Gipson (41st SD) and Cecilia Tkaczyk (46th SD).
Taking the IDC members out of the equation, none of these three groups has enough members to way an internal leadership vote. That means coalitions would have to be built, and if history is any guide that will be a very difficult task indeed for the Democrats.
Which brings us back to the black senators who met this week.
According to my source, they’re very concerned about losing the leadership post, which has gone to a black senator since November 2002 when David Paterson ousted then-Senate Minority Leader Marty Connor (a white Brooklynite) became the first non-white elected to lead a legislative conference in New York history and the highest-ranking black elected official in New York.
But they’re also not unified behind Sampson.
The leader acknowledged that fact himself during an interview with Errol Louis on “Inside City Hall,” saying he’s taking none of his colleagues’ votes for granted and specifically referencing trouble with two members: Perkins and Diaz Sr.
Diaz Sr., the last member of the storied four amigos who played a central role in the last leadership battle after the Democrats took the majority in 2008, made it clear today that he won’t support a Republican for majority leader. But he also didn’t tip his hand as to which Democrat he’ll back.
“I don’t think there is anything that the Republican Conference could offer me now that I could not get from my Democratic Conference,” Diaz Sr. said in a statement.
“I am a Democrat elected by a Democratic community, I have always been a Democrat, and I will always be a Democrat fighting teeth and nail, to protect senior citizen benefits, better education for our communities, affordable housing, health services, immigration issues and those services that the Democratic party have always fought for.”
My advice to my colleagues within my Democratic Conference is that nobody should take my vote for granted about who should become the Leader of my Democratic Conference, no matter if they are Black, White, Hispanic, Jewish, or Christian.”
“So let it be known, and let it be written, and let’s stop all of the rumors now and forever, because I am a Democrat and I will be voting with my Conference, and I will be voting for a Democrat as the Leader.”
Perkins has gone AWOL since Sampson mentioned his name on the air. He so far has not returned multiple voicemail messages and texts, which is very unlike him.
|Print article||This entry was posted by Liz Benjamin on November 16, 2012 at 4:25 pm, and is filed under Democrats, Republicans, State Senate, Uncategorized. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|