The following things are not news: Craven horse-trading in the New York state legislature, that State Sen. Pedro Espada plays politics with his elbows high, and that Democratic Gov. David Paterson is too politically weak to do anything about his party’s bumbling, even after that bumbling cost them control of the New York state Senate.
What is news: The GOP using gay marriage as a political football against the Democrats – by coming out in favor it.
One month ago, Democrats had a slim 32-30 majority in the New York state Senate. Now, thanks to the defection of Democratic Sen. Pedro Espada, the Senate is split down the middle, 31-31, with no lieutenant governor to break the tie. Neither side can agree on who's in charge, so the Senate has been deadlocked for almost a month.
Because the Republicans are the more disciplined caucus, the solution is likely to involve one or two Democrats breaking ranks and supporting the Republican slate for majority leader and Senate president pro tem.
The issue most likely to push Democratic senators into the GOP bloc is gay marriage.
One prime candidate is Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, who threatened to follow Espada onto the Republican side if the Democrats put gay marriage on the table but then chickened out when Paterson did put it at the top of his legislative agenda on June 24. There's still a chance he might defect: Diaz, a Pentecostal minister who, like Espada, represents the Bronx, vowed back in November that "my position as an ordained minister and a pastor will not allow me to support any would-be leader that will bring gay marriage to the Senate floor." According to a New York Magazine cover story, Espada "nudged Paterson" to include gay marriage on the agenda in order to win Diaz over to the Republicans. (According to the article, after Paterson announced that his agenda would include gay marriage, Espada asked for Diaz: "Write him a note that says, 'Call Pedro!'")
But Espada, who supports gay marriage, has cast his net among gay rights advocates, too – like Sen. Tom Duane of Manhattan. Shortly after the June 8 coup that put the Republicans in charge, Duane gave this quote to the New York Times: "Today, I’m in the Democratic conference, and I’m a Democrat. There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone what’s going to happen when everyone comes back on Monday." He later clarified that "There is zero chance of me becoming part of a Republican-led majority or a Republican, ever" – a clarification that has put the brakes on speculation that Duane will "go G.O.P." in order to get gay marriage passed this year. Still, Espada has made no secret of the fact that, if Duane reconsidered, the Republican side would be listening. (By contrast, Democratic leader Malcolm Smith is less than fully committed to holding a vote so soon.)
In New York, even conservative Republicans like former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno support gay marriage these days.
It's unlikely that the national Republican Party will outflank the Democrats on gay marriage, and, certainly, using gay marriage to court a traditionalist like Ruben Diaz won't win Espada any friends on Christopher Street, but it's still remarkable that Albany Republicans would be willing to see gay marriage passed in New York in exchange for control of the Senate. A man in Albany gave us the old moderate Republicanism; is this the new?