Golisano's Coup

Like fellow billionaire Sylvio Berlasconi of Italy, Rochester (N.Y.) businessman Thomas Golisano made a fortune on his own (Paychex, which handles the payrolls for scores of major businesses nationwide), owns a professional sports team (the Buffalo Sabers hockey team), and helped found a new political party (the New York Independence Party, which holds the third line of the Empire State ballot).  

But where Berlasconi has won three stints as prime minister of Italy, the 67-year-old Golisano failed in all three of his bids for governor of New York in spite of spending $93 million on campaigns in 1994, ’98. and ’02 (although, as admirers point out, he increased his showing each time and guaranteed his Independence Party the third line known as “Row C”).

But last week, Golisano finally won a political victory of sorts, as he stage-managed the abrupt and stunning shift of power in the New York Senate from Democrat to Republican.  Upset at the state’s $8 billion deficit and the failure of Democratic legislators to stand up to Democratic Gov. David Paterson’s calls for higher taxes, Golisano began secretly calling and dealing with the 30 Republicans in the 54-seat state senate as well as Democrats who might be willing to “switch and fight.”  Last week, in a move that left Albany Democrats as well as most of the New York media flabbergasted, Democratic Sens. Pedro Espada, Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens suddenly announced they were switching their support for control of the senate to Republicans.  Thus, after five months as a majority in the Senate, Democrats are back to the minority that they were for the previous 44 years.

With two weeks to go before the end of the legislative session, Democrats locked the gates in the Capitol that lead to the Senate chamber, and Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith has promised not to call his members back into session under the circumstances.  Should this impasse hold, it will place in limbo such key measures as gay marriage and new ethics reform measures.  More than a few cynics point out that the coup that scuttled fresh ethics reform was effected by Espada, who once tried to direct $745,000 to an organization that paid him $200,000, and Monsettate, who is facing felony charges for slashing his girlfriend with broken glass.  Both renegade senators will remain Democrats, however.

Republicans did not seem bothered by this and elected Espada acting senate president.  Republican Sen. Dean Skelos went from minority to majority leader and committee chairmanships were split evenly between the parties (although Democrats have shown no sign of showing up for the remainder of the session).  

“It’s a great day for the state of New York,” Golisano told the Associated Press.