ALBANY—David Paterson publicly declared Sunday he would force the State Senate into a special session on Tuesday, barring some resolution of the leadership struggle in the chamber that is entering its third week.
In doing so, Paterson had harsh words for senators, many of whom are former colleagues: "Over the last few weeks, the senators' conduct has been laughable. But what's going on around here these days is no joke, and I don't find it funny," he said. "You have inconvenienced the lives of all New Yorkers for a couple of weeks, and now you will come back to work and do the people's business."
If they do not, Paterson said in a Red Room press conference, "I will convene a special session every day until they do. That includes Saturdays and Sundays. That includes July 4."
Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, will preside, Paterson said. Additionally, aides to the governor released the above list of bills, considered "time sensitive," that will be considered first. "We'll get to the issues that are more controversial after we resolve them," Paterson explained. It contains bonding authorization for some counties, some necessary renewals, and school-governance legislation. It contains one more controversial part of the governor's agenda—the Tier V pension system that he hopes to pass for new hires. Two major public-employee unions dropped their objections to the legislation in exchange for Paterson backing down earlier this month from a threat to cut spending by laying state workers off. The bill authorizing the program has not yet been acted on by either house of the Legislature.
Alan Van Capelle, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a principal advocate for the measure, issued a statement calling the omission "an insult to millions of gay and lesbian people and their families."
I've heard from one source familiar with the lobbying effort that marriage advocates were promised the bill would be on Paterson's special-session list.
On Friday, when news of the coming special session was starting to leak, I asked Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell for his thoughts.
"No one has been a stronger supporter of the gay and lesbian community and on marriage equality specifically," O'Donnell, who is openly gay and carried the bill in the Assembly, said. "I am confident that if we are called to special session that marriage equality will be part of the governor's agenda for that session."
O'Donnell did not return a call seeking comment Sunday night.
Meanwhile, Democrats met Saturday in Harlem and seemed to be aligned with the governor's call. Republicans repeated their contention that the special session isn't necessary. In statements, both State Senators Dean Skelos and Pedro Espada Jr., the heads of the party's coalition in the chamber, said they planned to go to the chamber's floor in an attempt to conduct business all week.
Each attacked Lippman's involvement, saying it would "raise troublesome separation of powers issues." The last time David Paterson convened a special session was last November, and he was foiled by the unwillingness of Republicans to negotiate a planned deficit-reduction package.
Republicans and Democrats are scheduled to meet face-to-face tomorrow to try and work out a solution that would prevent the extraordinary session. Paterson offered two mediators—Stan Lundine, a former congressman and lieutenant governor and former State Senator John Dunne—to help broker some solution.
State Senator Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat, said he was not optimistic.
"It's hard to say. It could happen that we could get everything done that needs to be done. But it's hard to say. My sense is that the chances are not likely as of today, as of this moment," he said around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. "That's unfortunate, but we'll see."
Paterson was asked just how far he would go to compel the senators to session, specifically whether he would direct the State Police to force them to the chamber.
"I'm not expecting anyone who is elected to the Senate right now, who knows how serious the problems of this state are, to not comply with this order," he said. "If they don't, that calls for action, and I'll take action. I'm not going to go into any details or specifics about what it would be; I'm just telling you the constitution is very clear on this."