early and often

Chris Smith: What Will the City Get Out of the Albany Shake-up?

Okay, what’s in it for us?” That’s the only relevant question the city can ask in the wake of yesterday’s ugly, farcical coup in the State Senate. If nothing else is clear — and very little else in Albany is clear at the moment — the defections of supposed Democrats Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate show once and for all that naked self-interest is the only thing that matters to our state legislators. Apparently the final straw for Espada, before throwing in with the Republican takeover, was his fellow Democrats’ refusal to steer $2 million in state money to flimsy Espada-connected groups in the Bronx, entities that had been created only in March. It remains to be seen whether Espada got any cash out of yesterday’s move; perhaps being elevated to Senate president — and therefore next in line to run the state if anything happens to Governor David Paterson — is enough.

But there’s no such thing as enough personal gain in Albany. Which is why the city should quickly be figuring out its own potential wins and losses from the latest mess. There are a number of major city issues that need state action, and with only two weeks left in the state legislative session, it would appear that actual governance might get lost in the chaotic political infighting. Mayor Bloomberg seemed to encourage that fear yesterday when asked what he’d do if a half-point increase in the city sales tax doesn’t pass, leaving the city with an $887 million hole in its budget, or if mayoral control of the public schools isn’t renewed by the end of June, throwing stewardship back to a Board of Education that no longer exists. “We would be in uncharted waters,” Bloomberg warned.

Yet there was a measure of calculation in the mayor’s words. He knows that the new Republican State Senate majority, if it holds, will be under enormous pressure to stabilize the city and state budget, at least short term, and so he’s turning up that pressure a few degrees. The mayor also has considerably more faith in the Republicans as professional legislators, able to take care of the standard procedural business of approving the budget deals hammered out by localities, than he did in the wobbly, inexperienced Democratic majority led — using that word very loosely — by the deposed Malcolm Smith. And Dean Skelos, the Senate Republican leader, has a record of cutting deals with his Assembly counterpart, Shelly Silver, which bodes well for Bloomberg retaining control of the schools, since Silver has already given his approval. On legalizing gay marriage, conventional wisdom would seem to dictate that a Republican-majority Senate would block a vote, but Espada is promising to bring the bill to the floor, and his newfound allies are likely to allow him to make the controversial item his own. The outcome of the vote, however, remains a toss-up. One clear loser in the shake-up will likely be the city’s rent-controlled tenants; Democrats were poised to reregulate apartments, but the real-estate lobby is thrilled to see the Republicans in charge.

Which brings us back, as always, to money: Bloomberg is on good terms with fellow billionaire Tom Golisano, who helped engineer yesterday’s upheaval and becomes a serious, unelected force in state government as a result. Another reason the mayor is fairly confident he’ll get what he wants out of Albany, once the shouting dies down, is that Bloomberg has poured $1.3 million into electing state Republicans. Trouble is, our state legislators have a habit of not staying bought for very long, no matter who is signing the checks.

Chris Smith: What Will the City Get Out of the Albany Shake-up?