ALBANY – The leaders of the new “coalition” state Senate met in public for the first time Monday to promote a joint effort to help downstate communities rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican whose Nassau County district was hit hard by the storm, and Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, used the public gathering in the Rockaways in Queens to insist their coalition idea will work and to try to beat back growing criticism among minority lawmakers that last week’s deal will deny influence to African American and Latino legislators.
"This coalition is not an exclusive club. It’s open to anyone, Democrat or Republican, who’s serious about governing," Klein said.
Black and Latino senators have expressed concern that the deal cut by Republicans, who did not win enough seats in last month’s elections to hold onto the majority on their own, with Klein’s Independent Democratic Conference blocked the chance from minorities in the main Senate Democratic conference from assuming power. The IDC group — until a black lawmaker, Malcolm Smith of Queens, joined on the same day the coalition deal was announced last week — was composed of four white lawmakers. The Senate Republicans have no black or Latino lawmakers.
Klein, in a session with reporters this afternoon in Queens that Skelos also attended, insisted the new coalition will consider the needs of all communities in the state. He said minority residents of New York will be helped by the IDC’s push, for instance, of a hike in the minimum wage.
Klein said no decisions about committee chair or leadership positions have been made between him and Skelos, though Skelos recently said in an interview that Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican, will remain as Deputy Majority Leader and John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, will stay as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee come January.
"We’ve learned from the past as to what we should do to avoid dysfunction," Skelos said Monday. He said he and Klein have "looked each other in the eyes" and both agree the coalition plan will work. "Bipartisanship, moving this state forward, is going to happen," Skelos said.
The new Senate task force on Hurricane Sandy reconstruction efforts will be co-chaired by Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican, and Smith, the Queens Democrat who for a short time a few years ago was the Senate majority leader. In an attempt to show it can work with lawmakers not part of the Senate coalition effort, Skelos and Klein named two lawmakers that are members of the main Democratic conference that will stay in the minority come January, including an incoming member from Queens, to the panel.