Monserrate Says He’s on ‘Right Side of History’

I just got off the phone with Senator Hiram Monserrate, whose defection from and return to the Democratic caucus in the State Senate has brought Albany to a standstill.

Monserrate said he did what he did because he had an “obligation” to his constituents “to change Albany,” and he is on the “right side of history.”

When I asked Monserrate what specifically he found objectionable about the tenure of Malcolm Smith, the Senate Democratic leader at the time of his defection, Monserrate said there was vacancy decontrol legislation that was stalled, plus “a lot of issues that occurred,” including some “administrative things.”

I asked if Pedro Espada Jr., the Democratic senator who was chairman of the Housing Committee and who joined Monserrate in defecting to the Republicans (but has not gone back), was responsible for scuttling the legislation.

“That wasn’t my understanding,” Monserrate said. Espada was “prepared to put it to the committee” and had given a “personal commitment to me” that the legislation would be voted on.

I asked if Monserrate had any regrets about what happened, considering that, at the moment, the Senate is split 31-31 and unable to pass any legislation at all.

“The vote I took was the vote I took,” he said. In the end, “I think it’s a good thing. The conference is more united than it ever has been.”

(This has become something of a standard phrase for him.)

Monserrate admitted “there was surprise” among his constituents in Queens over his defection, but “everyone knows I’m a Democrat.”

“They sent me to do a job. My constituents know that I am unbought and unbossed,” he said. “I speak to the people who are my boss. I’m accountable to them.”

Before hanging up, I asked if he had any thoughts about what Tom Golisano, the billionaire businessman that helped orchestrate his initial defection to the Republicans, might have in store for the future.

“I don’t know what he might do,” said Monserrate, who went on to say that Golisano is “a private citizen” and has the right to whatever opinion he may have.

UPDATE: Here’s Brian Lehrer’s interview with Monserrate this morning. Monserrate said the issue of whether Pedro Espada Jr. should be allowed to cast two votes in case of a 31-31 tie is a “legal question” that is “challenging,” but he did not say whether he thought it was right or wrong.

On raising the sales tax, Monserrate said it would “hurt more working-class and poor people” and that raising it makes the “hairs on the back of my neck” stand up.

He said he had some unresolved issues with mayoral control, and that he was ready to vote on same sex-marriage legislation (although he would not say whether he supported or opposed it).