ALBANY—All voters are created equal, but some voters are more equal than others.
So says State Senator Pedro Espada Jr., who after a restraining order was dropped against him yesterday has been claiming he has the power to cast an extra, tie-breaking vote in the 31-31 State Senate because the president pro tempore is the acting lieutenant governor. Now, he claims that he has the power to vote twice to establish a quorum.
"I didn't say twice. I said that I could cast a vote as senator, and I could cast a vote as acting lieutenant governor. I didn't make that up," he said. "The constitution is there."
Perplexed reporters asked Espada to elaborate.
"My vote as senator and my vote as acting lieutenant governor is in place to a) establish a quorum and b) cast a vote on legislation when there is a tie," he insisted.
Fred Dicker asked how there could be a tie on a quorum.
"What we're maintaining is that if there's 31 members present and ready to vote, those 31 members can ask for a tie-breaking vote to be cast."
"But if it's 31 to 0, there's no tie," Dicker replied, sensibly.
"That's your math. My math is that 31 present, 32 needed."
"Where's the tie? Tie means equal," Dicker replied.
"Forget about the equal. 31 are present. Ok? And then the vote of the acting lieutenant governor can be cast to establish a quorum," Espada replied.
His comments came after another "session" conducted, unofficially, with 31 Republicans plus Espada and no other Democrats in the chamber. After establishing there was not a quorum, individual senators rose to talk about the bills on the active list that were not being acted on because Democrats were "boycotting." They talked about helping children get to school, honoring veterans and providing care for autistic children. They managed to mention State Senators David Valesky and Craig Johnson–considered prime targets in the next election–by name.
Espada was asked why, given this bemoaning of inaction, he did not exercise his constitutional second vote to establish a quorum today.
"Because there are, I think, good negotiations going on that the governor has involved himself in with the full participation of Senator Skelos and myself, and Senator Sampson and others, that can hopefully by the end of the day, or before session at 11 a.m. tomorrow, could make them come into the chambers and realize three basic things: one, that there was a 32-30 vote that counts. Two, that power sharing is in the rules reforms package. And three, they have no other choice because they cannot continue to hurt their communities in the way you heard expressed here today."
(Marissa Shorenstein, a spokeswoman for David Paterson put out this statement: "Governor Paterson met today with leaders from both conferences in the Senate. The conversations were productive but no resolution has been reached. The Senate leaders will be speaking to their conference members on some of the ideas raised that may help to resolve the current situation and get the Senate back to work. Governor Paterson does not have the legal authority to intercede on the issue of presiding officer of the Senate. In the interest of the people of New York, the Governor will continue to work with both sides to bring a resolution to the impasse that will enable the Senate to get back to work and start passing time-sensitive and critical legislation that must be addressed.")
So, Espada was pressed: tomorrow?
"Well, we're not going to set a deadline, but we're closing in on one," he said.
Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, produced four court cases dating back to 1826 establishing that the lieutenant governor should not be counted for quorum. He pointed to Mason's legislative Manual, which says that for a quorum, "persons who are not at the particular time regularly qualified members of the body should not be counted."
"That would be like asking to get one vote for every district you supposedly live in," Shafran said, backhandedly.
After he gave an interview in Spanish to a news crew, I asked Espada if, given his spotty record of fulfilling promises (like those missing campaign filings, which he has promised to clear up as soon as possible for seven months), whether people should consider him to have any credibility.
"I just said that today, and uh, so there's not a continuing repetition of that, although it's clear in the statute. And the reason that I'm saying it is that people look to leadership for answers," he said. "We can talk about whether I'm this or I'm that, but until we reconcile them boycotting their community and not being here to work. You can't reconcile that!"