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Senate sees progress in breaking deadlock

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As the state Senate deadlock approached the one-month mark this week, both sides of the aisle struck a few optimistic notes on hopes of a resolution after closed-door meetings with Gov. David Paterson while a Queens assemblyman failed in an attempt to coax the governor into further action.

“There are a number of public proposals regarding a governing agreement for the Senate which the Democratic Conference will be discussing tomorrow,” state Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) said in a joint statement Tuesday evening after conferring with Sens. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), the two opposition leaders appointed after a June 8 Senate coup. “We are encouraged by the progress that has been made thus far and will continue to bridge the gap on a reasonable solution that will allow the Senate to get back to passing legislation critical to millions of New Yorkers.”

But the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee stopped short of saying the two sides had reached an agreement to negotiate based on two power-sharing plans for the evenly divided chamber.

State GOP spokesman John McArdle said the Democrats “recognized that we have to get this resolved this week and the blueprint we provided is something we will work off of.”

Earlier Tuesday, Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who last week was in the eye of a storm in Albany over whether he was present for a vote after Democrats counted him as part of a quorum, joined his fellow Republicans and Espada in putting forward a proposal that would establish a Senate without majority or minority leadership distinctions and empower individual members to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. Espada would remain the president pro tem under the Republican plan.

The hopeful words arrived after a weekend of fruitless, minutes-long sessions. Senators from both sides again convened in the chambers for an extraordinary session Tuesday, but Republicans — along with Espada, Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), Sen. Carl Krueger (D-Brooklyn) and Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx) — walked out when Democrats tried to call a regular session to pass any bills.

On Monday, state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) was part of a failed attempt to persuade the governor to end the stalemate, joining the nonpartisan advocacy group Citizens Union of New York in arguing that Section 43 of the Public Officers Law would allow Paterson to appoint a lieutenant governor, something experts previously said could not be done because the state constitution only provides for the seat to be filled by a general election.

The Senate membership is split 31-31 with no lieutenant governor in place to break the tie.

“The answer to the state’s gridlock was right under own noses the entire time: The law allows Gov. Paterson to choose a lieutenant governor when there is a vacancy,” Gianaris said in a statement Monday. “I urge the governor to make this appointment as quickly as possible so the state Legislature can resume its work and pass the dozens of important measures that await action.”

But Gianaris was thwarted by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who said the state constitution takes precedence.

“We understand the apparent political convenience of the proponents’ theory due to the current Senate circumstances,” Cuomo said in a statement. “In our view, however, it is not constitutional. In addition, contrary to the proponents’ goal, we believe it would not provide long-term political stability, but rather the opposite, by involving the governor in a political ploy that would wind through the courts for many months.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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