Not to be outdone by their colleagues across the aisle, New York State Senate Democrats staged a defection of their own on Tuesday — joined by one unsuspecting Queens Republican on a quest for a beverage.
Thirty-one Democrats gathered in the Senate chamber called a quorum after Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) cut across the floor to quench his thirst in the Senate lounge.
Democrats marked Padavan as present after he allegedly made eye contact with the Senate clerk — then proceeded to pass more than 100 critical bills scheduled to expire later in the evening.
Padavan crossed the Senate floor after reporters who were gathered for an ill-fated press conference allegedly blocked an alternate path around the chamber.
But Padavan contested the integrity of the quorum, submitting an affadavit against the vote and claiming he was listening to senators reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the lounge before the official head count.
“This is a distraction from the real issues here. We’re doing everything we can think of doing. And what they’re doing is trying to get a bogus vote,” Padavan said. “The way you get marked present is one of three ways — either you sit in your seat; or you go up to the desk indicating that you want to be marked present or you get the attention of the Senate — usually by raising your hands or something. None of those three things occurred.”
Gov. David Paterson agreed with Padavan, announcing he would not sign any bills passed by the questionable quorum.
But Democrats insisted that the vote was legitimate and urged the governor to sign the laws before the midnight deadline.
“Today we met the needs of 19.5 million New Yorkers by fulfilling our promise to pass legislation which will provide billions in revenue for local governments and protect hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said. “The process was far from perfect, but at the end of the day we served the best interests of the people by passing legislation.”
The Senate’s failure to hold an uncontroversial session jeopardized millions in tax revenue for cash strapped local governments — including New York City. The city’s proposed half percent sales tax hike and control of the Department of Education remained in limbo on Wednesday.
“It was wild,” Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) conceded. “Senator Padavan walked across the chamber. A lot of people saw him and scrambled to do the bills.”
But Addabbo defended the vote, urging the governor to sign the bills and insisting that leadership disputes wait until after the urgent laws were complete.
“He has two sets of bills and refuses to sign them both. We don’t know what else to do,” Addabbo said.“Why the governor wouldn’t sign these bills is beyond me.”
Paterson has ordered extraordinary sessions to vote on legislation every day since last Monday. None have yielded acceptable bills, according to the governor.
The Senate has remained deadlocked for nearly four weeks after Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) and Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona) unexpectedly joined 30 Republican senators in a surprise leadership vote on June 8, electing Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) as majority leader and Espada as president pro-tempore under the banner of bipartisan reform. Monserrate later returned to the Democrats, splitting the Senate with 31 members on each side.
Republicans warmed up to the idea of a new power sharing agreement this week — proposing a plan to rotate leadership duties — one remarkably similar to a plan proposed by Democrats a week after the coup.
The new proposal did not outline a role for Espada — the coup ringleader whose position had been a major source of consternation, according to officials close to the negotiations.
Democrats called Espada’s leadership unacceptable and refused to vote with Republicans until a new deal was brokered.
Republicans initially argued that the coup leadership vote was legitimate and bipartisan and claimed they had neither an obligation or incentive to elect new leaders.