ALBANY—So now that the Senate is nominallly a functioning body, who's running it?
It's not an easy question to answer.
"It's not a clear, bipartisan operating agreement, but it's not as though the Democrats have established clear control over the Legislature again and are consistently moving their agenda," Justin Phillips, a political science professor at Columbia University who researches state government, just told me by phone. "The Democrats are nominally back in charge, but until we see more, moving some really significant and important pieces of legislation, that's when we're going to figure out whether they've really effectively reorganized the Legislature."
The conference put out a press release this morning proclaiming action on "hundreds of bills that benefit local municipalities and strengthen programs that will lead to the revitalization of communities across the state." But, as Phillips noted, there was no action on controversial items: same-sex marriage, tenant-protection measures or a program to incentivize the "greening" of homes. They also didn't act substantively on the issue of school governance.
"Trying to get something substantive done right now is, well, hard," said one Democratic lobbyist. "Anything that requires brainpower is a no-can-do right now."
It's unclear exactly who is in charge. The chamber's failure to consider a reauthorization of mayoral control passed by the Assembly—supported by Senators Malcolm Smith, Jeff Klein and Pedro Espada Jr, three parts of the chimerical conference leadership, but not Senator John Sampson—indicates that "Conference Leader" Sampson has a high amount of influence over the active list. Sources say that Espada's power is minimal, but his prominence (as well as that of Senator Carl Kruger as chairman of the finance committee) will make it next to impossible to take up the most liberal of the tenant-protection measures.
Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the Democrats, said the active list of legislation is determined by "four leaders working in conjunction and consultation with the majority conference … but the reforms we've adopted will open up the process and the active list."
Just not until January. In the meanwhile, not much will get done. As the Legislature adjourned last night, Smith indicated that senators are not planning to return to session until September, when David Paterson has indicated he will call a special session to deal with fiscal issues and same-sex marriage.
Everything is on hold until then.