ALBANY—Sunday's extraordinary session of the still-chaotic State Senate was really extraordinary for one reason only: The Democrats set a new speed record of one minute, 55 seconds between gaveling in and gaveling out. They then returned to closed-door negotiations that, according to those involved, did not produce any agreement.
David Paterson called the situation "deadlocked" after meeting for over 90 minutes with Democratic senators in a closed-door conference that he and several members described as an air-clearing. But the governor offered no specific proposals, just an exhortation to act before Wednesday, when some legislation is set to expire.
At this point, Senate Democrats say they're just trying to make some kind of temporary arrangement to get through the immediately expiring legislation—like mayoral school control, the Power for Jobs program and a host of bond and sales-tax extenders—and come up with a more permanent deal later.
"We can find a neutral person for one day to preside, so we can get the business of the people done," said Senator John Sampson, a Democratic leader. "That's what it's all about. We want to get the business of the people done."
Earlier, Republicans and their allied Democrat, Senator Pedro Espada Jr., said they are only interested in a long-term operating agreement. They say they will not budge from the position they held on June 8, the day they orchestrated a floor vote and elected Espada as president pro tempore, with Senator Dean Skelos remaining majority leader.
Espada told reporters, "We don't think that a band-aid approach will work here."
I asked him if things were different than they were, say, 10 days ago, or if both sides have just dug in their heels.
"Yes, they are," Espada said. "Again, I think I could just tell you about this climate of civility, this climate of focus, and a climate of accepting what happened June 8 and the reforms."
"I think the issues will be clarified today and hopefully we'll be gaining closure," Espada said (it's worth noting he has not delivered on similar promises before).
Democrats are now using a six-person team to conduct negotiations, which does not include Senator Malcolm Smith, who they insist remains the majority leader. The new team is comprised of Senators Sampson, Jeff Klein, Diane Savino, Tom Duane, Neil Breslin and Martin Malave Dilan.
The continuing stalemate going into Monday prompts the question: Who, if anyone, can break the deadlock?
Paterson is still trying to obtain a court order that would authorize State Troopers to bring senators into the chamber.
A coalition of labor and progressive groups has sent a letter to senators urging them to forge a bipartisan operating agreement.
And Michael Bloomberg held a rally at a school in East Harlem Sunday with Paterson and the UFT’s president, Randi Weingarten, to urge a renewal of mayoral school-control legislation. "In my heart of hearts, I find it just so inconceivable that anybody, any rational person, would walk away from a million, one hundred thousand kids and run the risk of destroying part of what's done and making any future improvements more difficult," Bloomberg said. "On the other hand, every day that goes by, you should pause to think that just conceivably, that fact may happen. Let's all hope and hope that it doesn't."
Paterson has called another extraordinary session for 3 p.m. Monday—an hour before his attorney is due to appear in court—with a long list of bills requiring action before July 1.
"I think that the leadership of the Senate continues to be foremost on the minds of Democrats and Republicans, and my admonition to them is, if they could just put that issue aside and recognize the value of what is going to happen to so many taxpayers, and the children of the New York City public school system, those who are employed by Power for Jobs, and just go in the chamber and find a way to get to these issues, which are emergencies, then we can move on from there," Paterson said after meeting the Democrats. "I'm afraid right now, as is too often the case, the two sides are deadlocked in a battle against each other and it's difficult for them, but unacceptable for us, that they can't see their way past it to address the issues that are important to the people."
—Additional reporting by Azi Paybarah.