In a closed-door meeting with four State Senators yesterday, Governor David Paterson expressed openness to supporting someone other than Malcolm Smith, the leading candidate to become the Democratic Majority Leader, according to two people in the meeting.
Ruben Diaz, a State Senator from the Bronx who has been unwilling to support Smith for majority leader, said the rebellion by him and three other Democratic hold-outs could have ended when they met the governor yesterday.
But that’s not the message they were given.
“He could have stopped this and said, ‘It’s Malcolm.’ He didn’t say that,” said Diaz. “He expressed dissatisfaction of Malcolm and said politically, it’s better for him if there was a Hispanic” as majority leader.
A spokesman for the governor, Errol Cockfield, strongly denied Diaz’s account, of the meeting, or that the governor expressed any criticism of Smith.
“That’s completely false. The governor said no such thing to Sen. Diaz,” wrote Cockfield in an email. The governor has also criticized the group, following the meeting, calling them selfish.
Another attendee at the meeting, State Senator-elect Pedro Espada of the Bronx, said the governor was asked, hypothetically, whether he’d support a qualified Hispanic candidate for Majority Leader. “And the answer was ’Absolutely yes.’ We did not want to focus on the shortcomings of Malcolm Smith,” said Espada. He went on to say that during the meeting, there was “not any denunciation of Malcolm Smith.”
But Espada said Paterson did not try to stop the group from continuing their search. “There was zero, I repeat, zero effort to stop us.”
Calls to the two other meeting attendees – Carl Kruger of Brooklyn and Hiram Monserrate of Queens – were not immediately returned.
After the meeting, Monserrate announced his support of Smith.