‘This isn’t going to work’: A party for Senate Democrats, with Cuomo as the Grinch

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In a small room right off the lobby of a swanky residential building overlooking Central Park last night, a handful of Democratic lawmakers, donors and political operatives gathered for what ought to have been a festive occasion: the holiday party hosted by the New York State Senate Democrats.

 They had, after all, thumped the Republicans in the November elections, overcoming a financial disadvantage, a hostile governor and, related, a brutally gerrymandered district map.

But the mood was not entirely happy at 15 Central Park West last night.

Cuomo had just endorsed a deal between Republicans and five breakaway Democrats that would block the Democratic conference from taking control of the chamber. Cuomo, earlier, told reporters that dysfunction among the Senate Democrats was "legendary" and that they "squandered" their chance when they were briefly in charge of the chamber in 2009.

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"It just seems bizarre," State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who, like Cuomo, is from Queens. She was referring to a particular part of the Republican deal where the title of Temporary President will "rotate" every two weeks. After talking to me and another reporter outside the party last night, she seemed almost at a loss for words. Eventually, she shook her head and walked inside.

State Senator Tony Avella, also from Queens, showed up a few minutes later.

"To have all of this nonsense happening within the last couple of weeks is very discouraging to people who voted to have Democrats back in control," said Avella. "I consider myself a bipartisan elected official, [but] this is not about bi-partisanship. This is just a power grab."

Overall, he said the power-sharing deal is "insane. So the power is going to change every two weeks? Does that mean the committees are going to change every two weeks? Or the priority in legislation is going to change every two weeks? This can't possibly work. This is ridiculous."

The person who could have prevented this mess, he said, was the governor.

"I wish he would have stepped in, on behalf of the Democratic Party, he's a member of the Democratic Party," Avella said.

When I pointed out that Cuomo was in fact a leader of the party, rather than just a member, Avella nodded and said, Cuomo "has to step in."

"This isn't going to work," he said. "I really think people are going to see this as one more example of the dysfunction in Albany."

City Comptroller John Liu emerged from his black S.U.V. parked outside the building, and did what none of his likely rivals in the Democratic mayor's race did, which was to cross Cuomo by endorsing a Democratic majority in the State Senate.

"The Democrats have the majority and the Democrats should stay together and form the majority caucus in the State Senate," he said.

"And I think when the Democrats control the majority in the State Senate that's the best way for New York City to proceed. There's been lots of times when legislation that would have been beneficial to New York City and the people therein that had been stopped by Senate Republicans," said Liu, "We would like to have Democratic control of the Senate."

Later in the evening, I saw former comptroller Bill Thompson walking down Central Park West toward the party. He was talking on his cell phone but briefly stopped to shake hands with me and a Newsday reporter. Thompson, who Cuomo endorsed for mayor in 2009, put Thompson on the state committee that oversaw the operations at Battery Park City and he now leads a state panel whose functon is to see that more state contracts go to women- and minority-owned businesses.

What did he think of the governor, the Republicans, and the Independent Democrats? Thompson politely indicated he was running late and declined to comment.

The person who seemed most eager to talk with State Senator Liz Krueger, of Manhattan. She was heading into the party but made it a point to walk over to where I and another reporter had been standing. She was accompanied by Cecilia Tkaczyk, a Senate candidate who is a good position to win her race after a protracted recount.

When asked for her reactions to Cuomo's description of the Senate Democrats, their "legendary" dysfunction and "squandered" control of the chamber in 2009, Tkaczyk said, "I think since the Democrats were in charge last time there's 14 new members. I'm one of them."

She spoke about the earnestness of her colleagues to get to Albany. "I don't see the dysfunction. I see people anxious to go to work and things done," she said.

Krueger said she agreed with Tkaczyk but couldn't help noting the irony of the new coalition controlling the State Senate.

"The Republicans created and caused a coup which really caused all the dysfunction," said Krueger. "Those players are gone: Carl Kruger, Pedro Espada, Hiram Monserrate. Who's back in charge, it appears, are the same players who were in charge then: Tom Libous and Dean Skelos, Malcolm Smith and Jeff Klein."

John Sampson, the current head of the Democratic conference in the State Senate, briskly walked into the party by himself, and did not stop to talk. Later, when he left the party, he walked north along Central Park West. I and another reporter shouted questions to him. He kept walking but yelled back, "Wait and see."