Even as he was poised to become the New York State Senate’s first black majority leader, Malcolm Smith was worried. The Democrats won the majority, but four of his senators were threatening to side with the debilitated GOP. It was an unlikely alliance of rebels. The ringleader, Carl Kruger, best known for attempting to ban the use of iPods while crossing streets, has a long-standing alliance with the Republican leadership that has allowed him to lavish pork on his constituents. Dems say he wants to ensure the money keeps flowing. Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., a Bronx Puerto Rican who is an ordained minister of the Tennessee-based Church of God, seems to mostly want assurances from Smith that he’ll block a vote on gay marriage. Senators-elect Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate seem to just want influence.
Smith’s critics grumble that he’s a clumsy deal-maker who hasn’t figured out how to balance competing agendas. Still, if Kruger is looking to become majority leader, he isn’t winning friends. One senator described the rebels as “playing an openly transparent game, which is going to result in trouble for all of them.”
Governor David Paterson, who met with the rebels last week, needs the standoff to end as soon as possible in order not to disrupt a November 18 emergency session to close a budget deficit. Smith has until then to solidify his power. Meanwhile, Smith’s rivals, notably Jeff Klein from the Bronx, are waiting in the wings.