Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Velvet Fog

Here's your Tuesday morning puzzler.   Which prominent New Yorker, more than anyone else, wants Republican Will Barclay to win today's special election for State Senate in the North Country's 48th Senate District?


  • It's not Senate Republican Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

  • It's not the State Republican Chairman.

  • It's not any other Republican State Senator.

Give up?

It's The Velvet Fog himself -- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

This has nothing to do with the business about how, before Spitzer, Silver was the top Democrat in the State, has been bumped by the Governor, and if the Senate flips he'll then be just one of three.

Silver is neither that petty nor in any sense insecure.   Whoever the Governor or the Senate leader, Silver holds political power more complete, and far more secure, than the most absolute ruler of a third-world autarchy.   His amazing public-speaking style reflects this brilliantly.   That stupefying baritone played at half-speed -- the Velvet Fog (with apologies to the late Mel Torm√©) -- as if to say,
"Listen . . . or don't listen.   It doesn't matter.   Neither does the subject.   Whatever it is, if I don't want it to happen, it doesn't happen.   It's not about what's right.  It's not about what makes sense.   It's about what I want.  I'm not in any hurry about any thing, because I don't have to be."

This blog has made no secret of its support for Elliot Spitzer as the best hope for meaningful change in this State.   Or of the role of the State Assembly as the most troubling obstacle to that change.

Last spring we introduced our reaction to Spitzer's first budget ordeal with a friend's quip:
"Spitzer said, 'On Day 1 everything changes.' What he didn't say was, 'On Day 38 it all changes back.' "
Day 38 being when the Assembly tore up its agreement with the Governor about appointing a new State Comptroller and appointed one of their own instead.

Actually that friend was wrong.   As Speaker Silver knows better than anyone else in the state, the reality is that on "Day 1" -- nothing changed at all.   There is no more dedicated tribune of the status quo in New York than Speaker Silver.   He smiled knowingly, as the new Governor spoke of anything changing, much less everything.

Governor Spitzer knows this.   He brings the Assembly to heel or he accomplishes nothing.   The first step to doing that is to control the State Senate.  With the Senate in the hands of Democrats sympathetic to Spitzer, he can begin to get power back from the all-powerful Assembly.

For Elliot Spitzer, the road to the Assembly runs through the Senate.

If Republicans lose today's election, they're down to a 1-vote majority in the State Senate.   That vote could evaporate instantly, with a single Republican defection that could be very likely, for reasons detailed in a spot-on piece we recall seeing (we think) at Rochester Turning, although we can't find the piece to link to it.   (If we're misattributing this, or if someone can supply the reference to the specific piece, we'd be grateful). Its point was that there would be massive incentives offered to flip, with the highest premium for the first Senator to do so, since each subsequent flipper becomes successively less valuable to the new majority.

Spitzer must flip control of the Senate.  It's that or spend the forseable future as a figurehead Governor like Pataki.

That's why The Velvet Fog quietly will be rooting for the other team tonight.

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