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A Pox

On Tuesday, Sen. Kevin Parker was found guilty of two misdemeanors relating to an altercation he had with a New York Post photographer. He was acquitted of a felony assault charge that would have ended his Senate career automatically. As far as Albany’s oddities go, Parker’s case is a particularly strange one. The Brooklyn legislator is exceptionally bright and impassioned and has great political instincts. He has battled off a number of challengers backed fiercely by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He also has the tendency to fly into rages. He is unable to control what comes out of his mouth (he notoriously called Gov. David Paterson a cokehead) and has had a number of physical confrontations. During a heated debate about the expulsion of then-Sen. Hiram Monserrate for his conviction on misdemeanor charges after he slashed his girlfriend’s face, Parker reportedly flew off the handle, cursing out Sen. Diane Savino and at one point charging at her before he was restrained by his colleagues.

Despite his legal troubles and his anger issues, Parker has not been subjected to the sort of contempt from his colleagues that Sens. Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate have been. Sen. Ruben Diaz, who was best pals with Espada and Monserrate, quickly issued a statement on Tuesday asking if the same legislators who backed ousting Monserrate from the senate will begin similar proceedings against Parker.

Diaz seems to be implying that there is more will among Democrats to go after Latino members of the conference, who are a small group, than members of the powerful black caucus. Diaz is particularly curious about what Sens. Eric Schneiderman, Neil Breslin and Liz Krueger will do regarding Parker’s conviction, as they led the charge against Monserrate.

“Will Sen. Schneiderman be consistent and show us what a true hero he thinks he is by starting the same kind of Senate action he organized to kick Hiram Monserrate out for his one misdemeanor? I’d like to know what their plans are now,” Diaz said.

Sen. John Sampson told reporters on Tuesday that he does not think the charges against Parker “warrant expulsion.” I think that most rational people know what the deciding difference is between the two senators. It isn’t race, it isn’t the nature of their crime; it is politics plain and simple.

Had Monserrate kept his head down and played good Democrat in the months after he was arrested and before he went to court, the odds are (call me cynical) that Democrats would not have gone after one of their own. Perhaps the nature of the election year would have dictated they pursued expulsion, but I suspect their real motivation was Monserrate’s decision to turn coat and join Sen. Pedro Espada and the Republicans in the senate coup.

Perhaps it was it was the convergence of the election season and Monserrate’s betrayal that drove Democrats to expel Monserrate. Sampson argued that it was the nature of the crime—domestic violence, rather than violence against a reporter—that made Monserrate’s expulsion necessary. Times Union capital reporter Jimmy Vielkind asked Sampson how violence against women is different from violence against journalists; Sampson had no response.

“It is impossible to separate the politics here,” said Sen. Neil Breslin. But, he added, “The severity of the crime, the fact that Monserrate’s domestic violence was caught on tape, makes it something much more serious.” Breslin said that race has nothing to do with it.

Sampson’s opinion on the matter becomes less important by the hour. Republicans are poised to take over the chamber, and a number of them have indicated that they will introduce legislation to create a commission to consider expelling Parker. Democrats opened a Pandora’s box with Monserrate’s removal. Sen. Andrew Lanza told the Daily News that the precedent has already been set. “You can’t just decide when to apply it or not to apply it,” Lanza said.

This is a fairly appropriate end to the Democrats’ brief reign in the majority.

In a recent interview with Liz Benjamin, Breslin, who spent plenty of time over the last two years being embarrassed by his colleagues, told Benjamin that he felt Monserrate, Espada and the rest of the four amigos cast a dark cloud over the good things his majority did. Benjamin asked Breslin how he plans to get along with the remaining members.

“Well, we have two out of the four. I will continue to work with them and hopefully go in a direction of making positive legislation for the people of the state of New York,” Breslin said. “I’m not saying it’s easy. I have a difficult time in conference because there are people I don’t want to sit next to.”

He told me that he hopes Diaz becomes marginalized now that Democrats are back in the minority and that things return “to a state of normalcy.”

So now Republicans will take over the chamber and Breslin, who toiled for years in the minority, will go back there with the rest of the Democrats, who are still a fractured bunch. The Republican conference has a reputation for being a well-oiled machine. Their members may be able to help Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo pass a conservative budget, but don’t for one second think they are any better behaved than Democrats.

One needs only to look to Sen. Vincent Leibell, who, as part of a plea deal with federal investigators, pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and failure to report taxable income from 2003 to 2006. Federal investigators were looking into whether Leibell was extorting money from a lawyer who did work for a nonprofit that Leibell created. When Leibell found out about the investigation, he met with the lawyer and told him to deny the charges. The lawyer was wearing a wire.

Andrew Cuomo has his work cut out for him if he plans to get ethics reform through the Legislature next year, but it is absolutely essential that it isn’t just the federal government policing Albany, because a great many legislators clearly do not know how to carry themselves as public representatives, and both the Parker and Leibell scandals will be fresh come January to remind him of it. I asked Breslin which scandal will be fresher on the public’s mind when Cuomo takes office. “I think they both just get added to a pile,” he said. “It’s a pox on both our houses.”

—David King


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