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Plenty of blame to go around in Senate mess

   And so what has been labeled by critics as the "most dysfunctional" Legislature in the United States is, thanks to the Senate, effectively shuttered.

   The blame is spread around the halls of the Capitol to include both Senate Democrats and Republicans.

   But it goes beyond that. Eliot Spitzer has been blamed. Were it not for his prostitution-enjoying ways, New York would still have a lieutenant governor who could break the 31-31 tie that the Senate now finds itself in.

   But there's a historical footnote to all this. It goes back to the last redistricting process shortly after the 2000 census. Republicans at the time could see the handwriting on the wall: Demographics were changing such that it would be only a matter of time before they lost control of the Senate.

   So they came up with a creative solution: Take the 61 member Senate and grow it by a seat to 62. With some magnificent computer software doing the trick, Republicans could keep their majority intact and not lose any seats, the thinking went, in the 2002 and subsequent elections.

   One of their jobs in 2002 was to protect then-Sen. Guy Velella, a Bronx Republican. They did so by borrowing Republican voters from an adjoining district at the expense of then Sen. Nick Spano, a Westchester County Republican. (For the record: Velella some years later was convicted on bribery and other charges and did prison time, while the district lines his former pals in the Senate drew for him eventually cost Spano, now a lobbyist, his Senate job.)

   The map-drawer behind the scenes running the Senate redistricting process in 2002? None other than Sen. Dean Skelos, the Long Island Republican who served for six months last year as majority leader and then won that title back in last week's coup.

   Significant, of course, in all this is that by going to an even-number, 62-member Senate the change put even more of a need to have a lieutenant governor in place to break tie votes.

   Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat, has pushed a solution to this for quite
awhile. He thinks the constitution should be changed to ensure someone is installed in the lieutenant governor's office should a vacancy occur by the elevation of the second-in-command to the governor's office, as seen last year with David Paterson.

   Today, lawmakers may find themselves taken out of the equation when a state judge decides whether he wants to enter the fray and rule who controls the Senate.

   "As a matter of public policy, you guys should work this out," Justice Thomas McNamara told the feuding sides Monday.

   Even judges don't want to get involved with the mess that is the Legislature.

   --- Tom Precious


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