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New Senate Coalition Finds Common Ground In Helping Sandy Victims

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The leaders of a new state Senate coalition were in the Rockaways Monday to announce a task force intended to help hurricane victims as all eyes are on them to see how the coalition will move ahead with its legislative agenda and avoid political squabbles. NY1's Zack Fink has the story.

Sens. Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein, who are now partners in controlling the agenda of the state Senate, got a first hand look at the destruction in the Rockaways Monday, one of the hardest hit areas by Hurricane Sandy.

The leaders announced a new bipartisan Senate task force to assist in the recovery, and plan to eventually draft legislation to help those most affected.

Republican Sen. Andrew Lanza and Democrat Sen. Malcolm Smith are the task force co-chairs.

"I believe, and I'm sure that Senator Klein and Senator Skelos can tell you, this is probably the most significant task force that the Senate has put in place since its existence," Smith said.

Smith is the newest Democrat to break away from his party and join the Independent Democratic Conference, led by Klein.

Over the weekend, Al Sharpton held a rally where African American lawmakers said the new governing coalition not only ignores the will of the people who voted for a Democratic majority, but as a result, also excludes black and Latino senators from holding leadership positions and committee chairmanships.

"This new coalition is not an exclusive club," Klein said. "It's open to anyone, Democrat or Republican, who is serious about governing."

"I believe that both Senator Klein and Senator Skelos will deal with that issue," Smith said. They are looking at who would be appointed to these committees -- I'm quite sure there will be some diversity -- and I think everyone should just relax for a minute.

Klein says no decisions have been made on committee chairmanships, but he did not rule out granting some to non-IDC Democrats. Skelos did not address it directly.

This was the first public meeting the new coalition leaders have had.

Whether they can work together to pass progressive legislation remains to be seen, but this might be an indication that they will be able to find common ground when it comes to providing relief for storm victims.

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