Sunday, November 9, 2008

Monserrate Makes A Democratic Deal

November 8, 2008

Make that the Gang of Three.

Senator-elect Hiram Monserrate and Senate Majority Leader-in-Waiting Malcolm Smith are poised to announce that the incoming lawmaker will support his fellow Queens Democrat for leader, sources confirm. He is the first member of the gang to formally endorse Smith.

The deal was sealed late last night here in San Juan, according to the sources, who are both in Puerto Rico and back home in Albany and have been briefed on the details of the agreement.

"He was losing leverage by the hour; there wasn't much more than he could extract," one source said.

In exchange for his support, Monserrate will be tapped to head the Consumer Affairs Committee and also chair the new Latino caucus that Smith pledged to create in an effort to woo the three Hispanic Gang of Four members who felt their community has long been under-represented and under-appreciated by the Senate Democrats.

UPDATE: Monserrate and Senate Deputy Minority Leader Jeff Klein both insisted the committee appointment issue has not yet been worked out. Said Monserrate:

"We did not discuss Hiram Monserrate chairing any committees. I will also tell you that there are 35 committees and 32 senators. I was going to chair a committee regardless. That is not as important to me as the issues I've been championing."

"I think time is of the essence and that the Democrats in particular we don't have time to linger or to hold up this process," he added.

Monserrate's decision to support Smith doesn't come as an enormous surprise, despite the fact that just yesterday he was poo-pooing the leader's appointment of former state Housing Commissioner Angelo Aponte to head his transition commission and his lingering anger at Smith for crossing party lines to endorse then-Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg over ex-Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer in 2005.

Monserrate is close with a number of labor unions and also ran on the labor-backed Working Families Party line. Even though he has been a renegade as far as the Queens Democratic Party is concerned, backing a Republican for majority leader or even merely remaining neutral and allowing the GOP to remain in control would have been potential political suicide in his Democrat-dominated district.

This certainly isn't good news for Minority Leader-in-Waiting Dean Skelos, but it also isn't exactly coming out of left fielt.

The Senate Republicans never really believed they could get Monserrate, and have instead focused their attention on Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr., who caucused with them until he was ousted from his seat in 2002 by Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., another Gang of Four (or rather, Three) member.

As of right now, Espada is the GOP's last best hope. Perhaps they'll do a deal with him that enables him to be leader as long as they get a piece of the majority action. He has already expressed his interest in the position to the DN's Juan Gonzalez.

Espada also said late last week that it was "highly unlikely" he and the other gang members would actually vote for a Republican for leader.

But Sen. Carl Kruger, the self-styled gang leader, didn't rule it out while chatting with the Times' Jeremy Peters.

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