Since When Have the Senate Dems Had a Problem With Thuggery?

It’s funny what a crafty and flawlessly executed backroom maneuver will do to people. Take the Democrats in Albany: They’ve suddenly discovered morality.

The party’s public response to the Monday coup that saw Senators Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate defect to the G.O.P. and hand Republicans control of the chamber has been loaded with self-righteousness and moral indignation.

“A thief and a thug,” is how Austin Shafran, the spokesman for Malcolm Smith, the Senate majority until Monday afternoon’s proceedings, characterized the two turncoat Democrats.

He’s sort of right, of course. (Well, allegedly right.) Monserrate is facing a felony indictment for slashing his girlfriend’s face with broken glass last December, while Espada faces a state probe into whether he’s used a nonprofit group to illegally fund his campaigns. Clearly, neither man is destined for a spot in the Good Government Hall of Fame.

But Democrats have known all of this for a long time. Monserrate’s glassing incident was widely reported when it happened, nearly six months ago. But instead of condemning him as a “thug” back then, Smith and his allies were anxiously trying to cut a deal with Monserrate, along with three other Democrats (Espada, Carl Kruger, and Ruben Diaz Sr.) who initially refused to side with their party to organize the Senate.

Monserrate did end up coming aboard, and in January Smith handed him the chairmanship of the Senate Consumer Protection Committee—even as domestic-violence groups protested vehemently. And after that, Smith volunteered to headline a lucrative Albany fund-raiser for Monserrate. Then, only after Monserrate was formally indicted and the public outcry became too much for him, Smith finally agreed to remove him from his committee chairmanship “temporarily.”

Monserrate’s thuggishness been obvious since December, but until this week, he was the Democrats’ thug—an absolutely crucial component of their 32-30 Senate majority. So, due-diligence admonishments notwithstanding, Smith and his colleagues were far more interested in keeping him in the fold than in drawing further attention to his reported misdeeds. But now? Well, suddenly his December behavior is outrageous and worthy of loud and uncompromising condemnation.

The story is roughly the same for Espada. Smith knew what he was getting when he cut a deal with the Bronx senator months ago. After all, Espada tried the exact same party-switching trick in 2002, a move that cost him his old 32nd District Senate seat. It was perfectly clear back in December and January what Pedro Espada is all about.

The Democrats’ newfound righteousness also extends to Tom Golisano, the upstate billionaire who helped orchestrate the coup (and who announced recently that he’s established residency in Florida because of New York’s high taxes).

“He belongs in Florida,” Shafran said on Tuesday. “That’s the last place an election was stolen from the Democrats. I have two questions: When and how much?”

He added: “Any good qualities he's had have been overrun by political opportunism. This is a billionaire that needs to have his hand in everything. He found something he can buy, the Senate Republicans."

Funny how we weren’t hearing this kind of talk from the Democrats, oh, say, eight months ago—when Golisano was pumping cash into their push to reclaim the chamber. Sure, Golisano’s 2008 election PAC was ostensibly an independent effort. But if Smith and his fellow Democrats had such concerns about Golisano’s character and motives, they could have spoken up loudly and forcefully back then to tell him not to bother pitching in.

But they didn’t, because they wanted to win, and they knew his money would help. So they said nothing and smiled as Golisano’s cash helped buy them a majority. But you can’t lead a power-hungry billionaire on like that and seriously believe that he won’t demand something in return—and that, if he doesn’t get it, he’ll use every tool at his disposal (like, say, enlisting an unsavory and unreliable pair of senators on whose loyalty you’ve unwisely pinned your flimsy majority) to even the score.

So please, Senate Democrats, spare us all of the high-minded rhetoric about dirty deals and Republican tricks and “the will of the people.” If the roles were reversed—if it were the Democrats who’d just peeled off two ethically impure Republican senators to grab control of the Senate—we all know that you’d be crowing about how courageous the turncoats were and how their actions would usher in a blissful new era of reform and progress for the state. You got outfoxed, plain and simple. Stop pretending it’s about anything else. Since When Have the Senate Dems Had a Problem With Thuggery?