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Smith's Arrest Brings State Senate Coalition Into Question

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The Independent Democratic Conference, which controls the State Senate with Republicans, has been directly affected by the latest corruption scandals to hit lawmakers, as the last senator to join the conference, Malcolm Smith, was arrested last week. His arrest could hurt the group's promise to pass progressive legislation. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.

When state Senate Democrats won more votes than Republicans last November, Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein moved quickly to form a majority coalition with Republicans. The four-member IDC was suddenly in the driver's seat, with veto power over what bills come to the floor.

Late last year, Malcolm Smith joined the IDC, bringing its membership to five.

"He was toxic," said Gerson Borrero, a NY1 and NY1 Noticias contributor. "He was a person who wasn't wanted or needed for anything."

From the beginning, state Senate Democrats pointed to the fragility of the Senate coalition, since Klein and Republican leader Dean Skelos had such different agendas. But so far, the two have worked together. Some are now wondering if Smith's arrest last week will change the IDC's ability to move legislation.

"Jeff Klein is up to no good, as far as I am concerned," Borrero said. "The people in his district should have seen that. You're elected as a Democrat, and you go and serve as a Democrat, and you start creating Independent Democratic Conference, for what? To wind up with people like Malcolm Smith?"

Governor Andrew Cuomo has made clear that he intends to push hard for an ethics reform package to clean up Albany. That includes stricter penalties for corruption, the end of cross-party endorsements and campaign finance reform.

Klein has committed to campaign finance, but Republicans are opposed to some of its main components.

"If this is used as an excuse for inaction, or an excuse to water down important legislation, that would be unacceptable," said State Senator Daniel Squadron, whose district covers parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Democrats say they stand ready to pass reforms without the taint of scandal.

"To the extent other people get tainted by their actions, or by actions of the members of their conference, that's something they will have to deal with," said State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens. "We stand by a commitment to reform that we've had for a long time."

There is no precedent for the current power-sharing arrangement in the senate, so it's tough to say how the corruption allegations will effect their ability to govern. For example, will they be able to replicate the earlier success they had in shepherding the gun control legislation through the legislature and passing an on-time budget?

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