Governor Eliot Spitzer has a secret plan to shrink Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver into obscurity. It starts with a Democratic takeover of the State Senate.
The first step, according to a senior official in the Spitzer administration, will be an attempt to compel vulnerable Republican Senators to defect to the Democratic minority by threatening them with well-funded opponents.
“At this point, if some of the members in the majority decide to stay put, there’s going to be no turning back,” said the official. “We’re at a fork in the road. The time for deals will be over very soon.”
“The ball can drop at any moment.”
Accordingly, said the official, Mr. Spitzer’s aides have begun to identify potential Democratic candidates now—nearly two years from the next legislative election—to run for State Senate in 2008, and to host fund-raisers featuring the Governor. “We’ll put the full weight of the Governor behind them,” the official said.
A shift of three more seats in the 62-member body away from the Republicans would give the Democrats control. The thinking from Mr. Spitzer’s perspective is that having a friendly Democratic majority in the Senate would not only allow the Governor to circumvent the Democrats in the Assembly, but would create a clear contrast that would put pressure on Mr. Silver and his members to accede to a reform agenda.
Mr. Spitzer helped elect a Democrat in a just-concluded special election in Nassau, and is currently attempting to recruit his former opponent in the gubernatorial primary, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi to run for another seat there.
The Governor’s threats will ostensibly leave Senate Republicans with the following options: retire; pledge to support Democratic Minority Leader Malcolm Smith over Republican Majority Leader Joe Bruno; or, for at least one lucky defector, take a job—like former Senator Michael Balboni of Nassau did—with the administration.
“There is one seat in the lifeboat left,” the official said. “Who takes the last seat in the lifeboat?”
(Mr. Spitzer’s predecessor famously opened up countless jobs in state departments and public authorities to party activists, a luxury that Mr. Spitzer doesn’t have in trying to woo the three Senate Republicans he needs to give Democrats the majority in that house.)
Sound crazy? Maybe. But the way the Spitzer people figure it, their attempt to engineer a power shift in the Senate is the best shot they have of breaking the grip not only of the Republicans in the Senate, but of Mr. Silver.
“We’re not sitting around talking to Assembly members about a coup. It wouldn’t work; our tactics wouldn’t make sense,” the official said.
If a Senate majority takes power, “it’ll make clear that there is a reform wing of the Democratic Party and a status quo wing of the party,” the official continued. “Creating a reform-minded majority in the Senate is better than a coup against Shelly.”