Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Feeling Slighted, Rich Patron Led Albany Revolt

Tom Golisano, a major behind-the-scenes player in the State Senate rebellion, in Albany.

In early spring, Tom Golisano went to Albany from his home in Rochester to meet with Malcolm A. Smith, then the Senate majority leader.

Mr. Golisano, a billionaire business executive, had spent heavily to help Mr. Smith and other Democrats win control of the Senate in the November election, and was angry to hear they were now planning to raise taxes on the wealthy. He expected an audience befitting a major financial patron.

Such used to be called bosses.

Instead, he said, Mr. Smith played with his BlackBerry and seemed to barely listen.

That meeting led to the dramatic collapse Monday of the Democrats’ grip on the Senate majority as a frustrated Mr. Golisano secretly planned with Republicans to persuade two Democrats to join them in ousting Mr. Smith.

A man with a lot of money who expected to be listened to got annoyed and spent more money and influence to get his way.

Gov. David A. Paterson vowed not to leave the state during the crisis and said he still considered Mr. Smith to be the majority leader.

Not leave the state; what will that accomplish?

Mr. Golisano, asked by reporters about the legal troubles of Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, the two Democrats who had joined with the Republicans to oust Mr. Smith, said: “Don’t talk to me about ethical background in Albany,” adding, “We have a governor who stood on a podium on national television and said he had extramarital affairs and used cocaine.”

And he is pure himself, Golisano? Not that Patterson looks anything but a buffoon.

Mr. Espada said the Republicans had promised him and Mr. Monserrate that the Senate would be run in a bipartisan way, and predicted that other Democrats would eventually join the power-sharing coalition.

Bipartisan? Please.

“This cannot become a circus,” said Mr. Espada, faced with the prospect of starting his career as Senate president being locked out of the Senate chamber. "We won’t force our way into any locked chambers. This is childlike, taking home all the marbles."

Cannot become a circus? It is a circus. Every year the NY State budget is late.

"If we’re blocked from the room, we’ll do it outside in the park if it’s a nice day," he added.

And if it isn't, they can go to Chuck E. Cheese.

Along with Mr. Golisano, a key figure who helped pull off the plan to overthrow Mr. Smith was Steve Pigeon, who is not only Mr. Golisano’s top political adviser but also a longtime friend of Mr. Espada’s.

Cronyism, influence peddling, back room politics.

After Mr. Golisano’s fruitless meeting with Mr. Smith in March, Mr. Pigeon and Mr. Golisano returned to Albany to meet with Mr. Smith’s top aide, Angelo J. Aponte, the secretary of the Senate. Mr. Golisano insisted that there had to be a way to balance the state budget without raising taxes, and at one point snatched a pad from one of Mr. Aponte’s aides and began scrawling back-of-the-envelope calculations.

Don't raise my taxes.

Mr. Golisano gave up on the Democrats and Mr. Pigeon moved quickly to set up a meeting with three top Senate Republicans. Secrecy was imperative, so they decided to meet at a small Albany rock club, Red Square, an unlikely locale for lawmakers. “You wouldn’t find anybody there that we knew,” recalled Senator George D. Maziarz, a Republican from western New York who attended.

Certainly not smoke filled, because there is no smoking, but in a back room, out of the sight of others, not in sunshine, as it were.

Mr. Pigeon soon set to wooing Mr. Espada, a Bronx Democrat who had once caucused with the Republicans. Mr. Pigeon and Mr. Espada had a long relationship, going back to Mr. Pigeon’s days as a counsel to the Senate Democrats. Mr. Espada drafted Mr. Monserrate, one of his close friends in the Senate, to join him in his defection.

A pair of twits.

Mr. Espada has said he joined the effort because he wanted to change how Albany does business. Indeed, shortly after taking power on Monday, Republicans enacted new rules for the Senate, including one imposing six-year term limits for the Senate’s leaders and another equalizing distribution of the $85 million the Senate allocates annually for legislative earmarks. But Mr. Espada was said to have grown frustrated about power and money.

Not that the Democrats are anything to crow about.

Mr. Espada has been fined more than $60,000 for ignoring state law requiring disclosure of campaign contributions. A nonprofit organization that he ran for decades, Soundview HealthCare Network, is being investigated by the attorney general on suspicion of having misappropriated funds. And the Bronx district attorney is investigating whether he lives in the Bronx district he represents.

What a guy.

Mr. Pigeon kept Mr. Golisano, who recently moved his primary residence to Florida, apprised of the progress, and Mr. Pigeon told him last Thursday the deal “was real solid,” Mr. Golisano said.

The twit doesn't even live in New York.

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