Make no mistake about it: The astonishing Republican coup in the State Senate has vast implications for the future. If the party manages to hold on to the Senate through next year, it will have a say in the redistricting process that will follow the 2010 census. That means Democrats will not be able to have their way in drawing up New York’s Congressional and legislative districts.
And that may not be so terrible. Things are bad enough in Albany, but if any party—in this case, the Democrats—has a monopoly on power, the system is liable to become even more dysfunctional, if that were possible.
That said, let it be noted that the virtual defection of State Senators Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada Jr.—Democrats who say they will vote with the Republicans now—is hardly a victory for good government. Both men are deeply flawed. Senator Monserrate, who represents part of Queens, will soon go on trial for assaulting his girlfriend with a piece of broken glass. Senator Espada, who represents the Bronx, beat charges that he steered Medicaid funds from his health care firm to his campaign a decade ago. Under the new Senate regime, Senator Espada will be the body’s president, and, by statute, he will be next in line as governor, since the lieutenant governor’s position is vacant.
The two Senators conspired with the G.O.P. to oust the highly ineffective Malcolm Smith as majority leader, installing Republican Dean Skelos of Long Island in that post. Mr. Smith has cried foul, but it’s too late. If Mr. Smith wants his party to regroup in preparation for next year’s elections, he ought to resign his leadership position and give his caucus a chance to start from scratch.
Governor Paterson, who served as minority leader of the Senate before becoming Eliot Spitzer’s lieutenant governor—and we all know how that worked out—bears some of the blame for this bizarre turn of events. In the face of crisis and instability in late 2008 and early 2009, he let the state drift, creating an opportunity for Senate Republicans.
Democrats need to figure out where they want to lead the state. Mr. Paterson is showing some signs of leadership, as noted above. But there is no reason to think Mr. Smith can do likewise. The party needs to find a new leader in the Senate.