ALBANY—The worst-case scenario, in the minds of many state senators, would be for Hiram Monserrate to be convicted of a misdemeanor charge tomorrow related to assaulting his girlfriend rather than a felony, which would cause him automatically to lose his seat.
He was initially stripped of his committee chairmanship and stipend, but both were restored by new leaders of the Democratic conference when Monserrate flipped back into the fold after flirting with Republicans for several days.
There is no standard of conduct (relating to these kinds of offenses) for a senator codified anywhere–not in the Senate rules, not in the Public Officers law, not in the Legislative Law. There is one clause in the Legislative Law which states “each house has the power to expel any of its members, after the report of a committee to inquire into the charges against him shall have been made.”
That would require a hearing and a vote by the full chamber; it’s unclear if this has ever happened. Another wrinkle: Monserrate was not yet a state senator when the alleged offense took place; it’s arguable, then, whether a committee would have jurisdiction. Paul Rivera, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, declined to comment on this hypothetical. Others were happy to.
“I think that any time that someone is convicted of a crime that injures someone, and if they rule that he intentionally did this, the guy ought to lose his job. This is someone who’s dangerous,” said Marcia Pappas, president of the New York chapter of the National Organization of Women. “This is crazy. They need to punish him, they need to take his job away, he should not have any power in New York State government whatsoever whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony. We’re talking about an individual who makes decisions about people’s lives. How can we as society allow this person to continue to be in a position of power, even if he’s convicted of a misdemeanor?”
State Senator Marty Golden, a Republican who has repeatedly criticized Monserrate, said by phone that a misdemeanor conviction “doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to go before an ethics committee that we have and sit before the board, and see if he deserves to remain in the body.”
“I think that people will have questions as to how this all came about, how she was cut in such a manner that she was, how he received the number of stitches she received, how she was taken out of her way to a hospital 20 miles away. These are questions, I think, that an ethics committee would want to do.”
There could also be a resolution reprimanding Monserrate. Either action would be politically delightful for Republicans and incredibly touchy for Democrats, who are hoping to protect their 32-30 majority (until and if they find someone else to fill Monserrate’s seat). I asked Golden what, if anything, he was planning.
“It’s too premature to make any statement on this until tomorrow,” he said. “I think it doesn’t help. We should leave the judge to make his decision, and upon the judge’s decision, we should take another look at this and see if the judge’s decision is a good decision, and a decision the senate body can live with.”