As part of a bold move to break the ongoing gridlock in the State Senate, Governor Paterson Wednesday appointed former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch as the state's new lieutenant governor.
During a live address from the State Capitol, Paterson confirmed Ravitch as his choice, saying the state constitution allows him the power to make such an appointment.
"I have consulted with some of this state's foremost legal minds and a nationally recognized constitutional lawyer," Paterson said. "The state constitution gives me the explicit power of appointment in cases of vacancies of office. There is nothing in the constitution nor in the law that says that I cannot fill the vacant post of Lieutenant Governor."
The governor also cited the financial strain the senate conflict has imposed on the state, saying the loss in revenue has posed an added threat to residents already struggling in the current recession.
Ravitch will be sworn in at 11:30 a.m. Thursday during a ceremony at the capitol and is expected to preside over a special session later in the afternoon.
In response to the governor's address, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island questioned the constitutionality of the appointment -- a concern shared by State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
"Sadly, once again, the Governor has put his political career ahead of you, the public," Skelos said.
Skelos also defended the June 8th coup and blamed the Democratic leadership for the current deadlock as well as the state's fiscal woes.
"Our reform coalition has proposed reforms that would empower individual senators to bring bills to a vote and give them the means to better represent you," Skelos said. "The days of powerful leaders controlling everything are over. The days of three men in a room spending and raising taxes in secret are done. The governor and those who are whetted to the past must recognized that Albany is changing for the better."
Ravitch, 75, chaired the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from 1979 to 1983. He also ran as a Democrat for mayor in 1989, but he lost in the primary to David Dinkins.
Most recently, Ravitch led a committee investigating ways to avoid a massive transit fare hike.
The position of lieutenant governor has been vacant since Paterson, who was lieutenant governor to former Governor Eliot Spitzer, stepped up to fill the gubernatorial role in March 2008.
Sources say it is unlikely that Ravitch would want to seek re-election.
Assemblyman Michael Gianaris had proposed this plan earlier this week. There are still some questions as to the legality of the move and many critics.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea of appointing a lieutenant governor mid-term, warning it could lead to an extended court battle.
"My office has taken a position on the law. We don't believe the Constitution provides for the governor filling the position of lieutenant governor," said the possible Democratic candidate for governor. "My office believes the way the way they read the Constitution, the governor does not have that power to fill the office of lieutenant governor."
The news came on the first day that state senators' biweekly paychecks were held by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The comptroller last week ordered that the biweekly paychecks of all 62 state senators be held until they resolve the power dispute.
Senators will be losing about $3,000 every two weeks.
There are still unresolved questions about whether the controller actually has the authority to hold back the paychecks.
DiNapoli met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg earlier on Wednesday to discuss the Senate gridlock's impact on the city. But he also fielded questions about the governor appointing an lieutenant governor.
"There are obviously legal questions that have been raised about that," said DiNapoli. "The best way to resolve this is for the senators to come together, agree on their leadership structure, start voting on bills again."
There is word that at least three long-term power sharing plans have emerged, two of them from the Democrats. Republicans and some Democrats are eyeing tomorrow as a possible deadline for an agreement to end their month-long stalemate, and get back to work.
A deal could call for Republicans and Democrats to share top leadership positions, resources, and staff more equitably, and rotate top leaders of the Senate.
"We think we're substantially there, but certainly there are certain things that the Democrat conference has a right to make recommendations, perhaps changes," said Republican State Senator Dean Skelos. "They are small changes hopefully."
The Republican plan calls for Skelos and Democratic State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. to keep their disputed titles of majority leader and senate president. But the power of the presidency of the senate would be diluted and shared.
The State Senate has been deadlocked since a June 8th coup by Republicans and two rogue Democrats to seize power from State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. State Senator Hiram Monserrate, one of the two Democrats involved in the takeover, returned his allegiance to the Democratic Party – tying up the legislative body 31-31.