Paterson’s Budget Gives Smith Something to Rally Around

ALBANY—David Paterson’s hard-to-digest budget proposals may prove helpful for State Senator Malcolm Smith.

After speaking briefly with reporters, Smith met with fellow Democratic senators behind closed doors.

According to one senator present, the conversation focused on budget preparation. Smith said that some members had already raised concerns about aspects of the budget, including cuts to assistance programs benefiting the elderly and disabled.

"The more focused on budget issues, the more Malcolm's members are going to have to come together around him," said one source close to the negotiations. Traditional Democratic constituencies are assisting that cause, the source said.

Both State Senators Ruben Diaz Sr. and Carl Kruger were in Albany for the budget presentation, but didn't attend Smith's caucus. I spotted Kruger schmoozing with other senators, of both parties.

Diaz said he skipped the meeting to "give them an opportunity to discuss whatever they have to discuss – and to criticize me and say whatever they want to say about me." He repeated his call to attend meetings with the conference, and "After all of this is done, and Senator Smith or whoever is elected, I'll be part of the conference. I will always be a Democrat."

I asked Diaz if that meant he wasn't ruling out voting for Smith, as fellow-renegade State Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr. has. "You know that movie, 007, Never Say Never Again? I don't know. Right now, things are very, very, up in the air," Diaz said.

That said, Diaz claims since a deal to bring him and other renegades behind Smith fell apart, he has spoken to Smith "only in the hallway to say, ‘Hello sir, how are you doing!'"

Then Diaz turned his attention to the budget.

"To see a Democrat now being the one cutting the program is heart breaking," he said of Paterson's proposal. "He's killing the people in my district. That's why I cannot vote for this budget, unless he puts a tax on the rich."

And he doesn't like diet soda.

"They say, who are pro-abortion, that a woman has a right to her body. Now they're taxing me? I don't have the right to drink the soda that I want?" Diaz said. "Why punish me?" Paterson’s Budget Gives Smith Something to Rally Around