Thursday, November 6, 2008

LATINO REBELLION IN STATE SENATE

Juan Gonzalez

Wednesday, November 5th 2008, 10:54 PM

Gov. Paterson met in a Manhattan hotel Wednesday with four rebel Democratic state senators who are threatening to scuttle plans to elect Malcolm Smith Senate majority leader.

The dissidents - three of them Hispanic - told the governor they are tired of the state's Democratic Party taking Latinos for granted, despite their role in the party's huge victories on Election Day.

One of the rebel lawmakers, newly elected Pedro Espada Jr., told Paterson he is considering a run for majority leader against Smith, who is from Queens.

According to three people who either attended or organized the meeting, the group held out the possibility of seeking Republican support for a run against Smith unless Paterson and Senate Democrats address their concerns.

"We had a frank discussion with the governor, and he heard us clearly," said Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx.

"We have a black President now, a black governor, a potential black majority leader in the Senate, but not a single Hispanic in any major statewide or citywide office," said one of the lawmakers at the meeting.

"We told the governor we're the biggest minority in the state, and we keep getting nothing but lip service and parades."

The governor promised to relay their concerns to Smith, Diaz said. He also told the group he fully backs Smith for the top Senate post.

Late Wednesday, all other Senate Democrats reaffirmed their support of Smith in a post-election caucus meeting in Albany.

A spokesman for the governor confirmed the Manhattan meeting but also declined to say what was discussed.

The mere fact that Paterson met with the dissidents was seen by some as a signal to the majority leader in waiting that he needs to be more responsive.

And with Democrats controlling the new Senate by a 32-30 margin, the four dissidents, should they stick together, could make the transition to Democratic rule in that body - the first in 43 years - a messy one.

The dissident group is made up of Diaz, a conservative evangelical minister from the Bronx; Espada, also from the Bronx and a former senator who has been a bitter political enemy of Diaz; Brooklyn's Carl Kruger, who has close ties to Senate Republicans, and Hiram Monserrate from Queens, a former cop and one of the most liberal members of the City Council.

"If we stay together, all bets are off, because Malcolm won't have the votes," one of the dissidents said.

"They're living in a fantasyland," countered a veteran Democratic lawmaker. "After all these years in power in the Senate, the Republicans are not going to suddenly line up behind a Democrat for majority leader."

"This is nothing but a caucus of backstabbers," said a New York City senator who backs Smith. "They can't even trust each other."

Some in Albany see this last-minute rebellion as an almost comical diversion.

With the economy in a tailspin, the state facing huge deficits and the governor having called an emergency session of the Legislature later this month, this is not the time for Democrats to start fighting each other, they say.

"What do these four have to say about the real problems facing New Yorkers?" one state official said.

jgonzalez@nydailynews.com

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