Why Democrats Are Rooting for a Monserrate Felony Conviction

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To the question of how many stitches you would need to sew up your face should a state lawmaker allegedly slash you in a jealous rage, we now have an answer (30 to 40). But, putting aside the gorier details emerging from the trial of State Senator Hiram Monserrate, what are the political implications? Here's what we've gathered from lawmakers and election officials.

If Queens Supreme Court Justice William Erlbaum finds Monserrate guilty of a felony, the senator would be automatically ousted from office. (Democratic Assemblyman José Peralta would likely run for the seat, and win it.) According to the Board of Elections, Governor David Paterson would then have the option of calling a special election that would be scheduled from 30 to 40 days after his announcement. A felony conviction would leave Senate Democrats, who have a 32–30 majority, down a senator for at least a month.

Since the legislature is on break until January, the absence of Monserrate shouldn't be a big problem. But the missing vote could complicate things if Paterson, during that period, orders lawmakers back to Albany to deal with the deficit or other matters, like same-sex marriage. It gets murkier if Monserrate is convicted of only a misdemeanor. Though he wouldn't have to resign by law, the judge could sentence him to up to one year behind bars, making it impossible for him to vote on bills. (Unless he escapes from his cell.)

Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch's legal victory this week doesn't necessarily give Democrats breathing room. His actual voting power is an area of dispute. He can cast tie-breaking votes, but experts are divided on whether he can weigh in on actual legislation, or just procedural matters like resolutions. Ravitch himself says he doesn't intend to break any important deadlocks.

If convicted of a misdemeanor, then Monserrate could become a lingering embarrassment. Democrats say the Queens party machine would probably pressure him not to seek reelection next year. But if he's slapped with jail time and doesn't resign, Senate Democrats could vote to expel him, though the statute granting the legislature that power is constitutionally questionable. And if acquitted, well, Monserrate would be awkwardly tolerated — his role in the Senate coup this summer didn't make him any friends, and the trial obviously doesn't help his reputation.

Democrats hoping that Monserrate doesn't accidentally cut them with a glass, then, will be rooting for a felony conviction.