As June approached, Lynch and Van Capelle started projecting confidence to the press. On May 31, Duane called a meeting with Lynch, O’Donnell, and other supporters in his Chelsea office, where he ranked the targeted senators by their level of support from one (a definite yes) to five (a die-hard no). The “two” column—populated by those who gave non-public personal assurances—at least, was looking up.
In front of the cameras on June 1, Duane declared, “There are enough votes, it’s coming to the floor, it’s passing.” There was an element of bluff to this. Three days later, Smith told an Albany news station that he didn’t see it locked up. He added that he wasn’t pushing his colleagues. “My members know where I am at on this. There is no reason for me to be actively working behind the scenes,” he said.
“How can he be on our side if he’s saying ‘I’m not working for it?’ ” Lynch asked her allies. Smith told them not to worry. “I need to do a public dance. I have to manage Díaz” he said, according to a source. For months, the Gill people had stood by Smith and dismissed his inconsistencies. Headed into the final weeks of session, they realized they wouldn’t know for sure if Smith had betrayed them until it was too late.
On the morning of June 8, Lynch’s operation was hours away from embarking on an eleventh-hour blitz. The plan was to have Bloomberg, Andrew Cuomo, and Nassau County executive Tom Suozzi ratchet up the pressure on the remaining holdouts.
When she heard that two Democrats had flipped and would be voting with Senate Republicans, Lynch says her instincts told her to do nothing. Van Capelle went back to his hotel room and cried. Lynch called him, and they decided to shut down the lobbying until they figured out which side would prevail.
That night, a frazzled Duane went back to his hotel room and didn’t return to the capitol the next day. On his way, he bumped into one of the turncoats, Pedro Espada Jr., who told him not to worry—he would try to move his bill. “That’s great. Keep me posted,” Duane recalled replying. He would get another call that week from a Republican proposing he join them, and GOP leader Dean Skelos was seen walking out of Duane’s office that week. “We were worried that Duane was willing to sell [out] the conference for one vote,” says one Democrat. But Republicans had also reached out to Díaz, who rebuffed them. They didn’t care who they reeled in; they were just trying to ensure the coup would stick. Duane said he never considered flipping.
Both sides agree that if gay marriage were actually voted on today, it could very well pass. The political pressure on Democrats from a gay community that was instrumental in their takeover would be intense. Two to four yes votes on the Republican side—most likely coming from Alesi and Andrew Lanza of Staten Island—could put it over the top.
But, as of press time, it’s not clear that the session will be extended, letting the measure come to a vote. If it does, it may well be the Republicans who get it there. They have certain partisan advantages for seeing it go to the floor: a vote either way for many Democrats in swing districts could help the GOP win back their seats. Which is why some activists say they are more worried about what will happen if the Democrats regain power—ironic, since Gill fought so hard to put them there.
Last week, the Senate Democrats elected John Sampson, a low-key Brooklyn lawyer, conference leader. This leaves Smith’s power uncertain, and Sampson doesn’t necessarily consider himself bound by the same promises. “Sampson’s always been lukewarm on this issue. I don’t know if he will grasp that his agenda has to shift,” says one prominent Democrat close to the Senate leadership.
The gay-marriage advocates assumed they could make the law a reality in New York with $1 million and a handshake. Today, their donors are upset and the advocates are frustrated. Albany lives by its own rules. As one Gill aide put it, “It’s the most dysfunctional government in the country. It’s an insane system.”