Governor David Paterson announced Saturday that he appointed two former state lawmakers to mediate the State Senate's power dispute, hours after the Democratic state senators proposed bipartisan rule over the Senate.
In a statement, Paterson said he appointed former Democratic Lieutenant Governor Stan Lundine and former State Senator John Dunne to mediate the State Senate's struggle over which political party has majority control.
Lundine served as lieutenant governor under Mario Cuomo and was a former congressman, while Dunne served in the State Senate from 1966 to 1989 and served time as deputy majority leader.
If the mediation does not work, Paterson would call a special legislative session on Wednesday and has appointed Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann to preside over such a session, in order to let critical legislation be passed before the end of the month.
"All New Yorkers, myself included, have waited for the members of the Senate to move this process forward on their own terms but the business of the people of New York cannot and must not be put on hold any longer," said the governor.
However, while senators would be required to attend the Wednesday session, they would not be obliged to vote.
A coalition of 30 Republicans and Democrat Senators Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada Jr. voted on June 8 for a GOP majority in the State Senate. Espada was named senate president pro tempore and Senator Dean Skelos was named senator majority leader.
As of Saturday evening, Republicans did not explicitly indicate what they would do, but the governor's plan quickly received their criticism.
Skelos said in a statement, "If the governor is looking to side with the Senate Democrats in a political effort to maintain the status quo and provide them with cover to go home for the summer, he can call a special session that resolves nothing and adds to the chaos Democrats have caused."
The governor's proposal was announced hours after key Democratic state senators, including Monserrate, met with the Reverend Al Sharpton in Harlem and proposed that the conflicted State Senate have bipartisan control of the floor for the remainder of the legislative season.
After meeting with Sharpton behind closed doors for one hour, the Democrats proposed that one Democrat and one Republican should simultaneously rule the Senate floor and preside over votes. The leadership positions would be rotated among the senators.
The Democrats viewed the proposal as short-term, to last until any special Senate session.
"He sets the agenda for the bills," said attendee Senator Malcolm Smith, who still claims to be senate majority leader. "Therefore, with him setting the agenda for the bills, and if we have a bipartisan agreement, we can at least finish this session this year, taking care of the important pieces of legislation that the public and the State of New York needs."
Smith also pledged that Democrats would retain control of New York State's two legislative bodies.
"For 40 years, Democrats was [sic] in the wilderness of New York State. Forty years. We are not giving back that Senate to the Republicans," said Smith.
Monserrate, who has rejoined the Democrats and left the balance of power at 31-31, left the meeting at the National Action Network early but said he stood by the call for Democratic unity.
"There were two meetings here, one prior and one after. I said my piece," said Monserrate. "I have several meetings with other senators today. There are conversations that will continue today, tomorrow and right into Monday."
Meanwhile, Espada claimed on Saturday before a Latino group in Albany that a leadership deal will be reached in the next 48 hours.
Espada said he plans to meet with top Senate Democrats John Sampson and Malcolm Smith to talk about ending the two-week power stalemate.
"I remain a Democrat, I have no ill feelings to my Democratic colleagues, I embrace the support from my Republican colleagues," said Espada. "And I promise to you, over the next 48 hours, as I head back down the [New York State] Thruway, we will achieve a compromise and will come back to Albany and take care of business, but not business as usual. We will come back transformed."
Espada called for a bipartisan compromise that will give equal rights to all senators.
The State Senate broke for the weekend Thursday after failing to reach a power-sharing deal.
If no agreement is reached next week, the Senate could leave several major issues in limbo, including the city's effort to raise the sales tax by a half-percent.
Albany also needs to renew, repeal or change the law allowing for mayoral control of city schools by July 1. Otherwise, school control will revert back to the Board of Education, which is ruled by borough presidents and local districts.
On Wednesday, the State Assembly approved the renewal of mayoral control, with only a few revisions of the original law.