Taimur Gibson Talks: Things are looking murky in Albany

Now, more than ever before, the name "Albany" seems to bring to mind words such as "corruption" and "dysfunction."

Many New Yorkers have long held contempt toward the state government, but the events of this past summer have rekindled a blaze of fury toward Albany, and the New York State Senate in particular.

The current crisis in the state Senate began as a power struggle in early June, when two elected Senate Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, defected and caucused with the Republican minority, which gave the Republicans a two-seat majority, then leading the Democrats 32-30.

The legality of the coup itself was immediately called into question by Democrats all over the state, while Republicans seemed all too eager to accept the two new members of the Republican caucus in the state Senate.

However, this so-called "coalition government" of 30 Republicans and two Democrats was short lived. Soon after the attempted coup, Monserrate apparently had a change of heart and crossed back over to the Democratic Party, making the split 31-31.

Under normal circumstances, the lieutenant governor breaks tie votes in the Senate, but New York unfortunately no longer has a lieutenant governor, as no replacement was appointed when former Lt. Gov. David Paterson became governor last year. Even more unfortunate is that the process for appointing a new lieutenant governor involves a confirmation by the state Senate.

Eventually, Espada also returned to the Democratic Party, reaffirming the Democratic majority in the New York State Senate. The attempted coup, however, had far-reaching implications. The whole incident eroded much of the trust that New Yorkers had in the state government, and showed just how precarious and volatile the situation in Albany actually is.

It gets worse though - Espada and Monserrate both have felony charges against them. Espada is facing some serious questions about his campaign finances and is currently being investigated by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, while Monserrate has been charged with assaulting his girlfriend with a broken glass bottle. If convicted, both senators would be removed from their seats, further destabilizing the state Senate.

What is the motivation behind this debacle? Next year holds an enormous amount of political importance. Yes, 2010 is the year of the midterm congressional elections, but it is also the year of the United States census.

The census is a massive survey of the entire country conducted once every 10 years to determine population density and movement in order to allocate the proper amount of congressional representatives. After the data from each census is available to the government, redistricting begins.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing state and congressional districts for the purpose of, in theory, best representing the population in government. Because the redistricting process occurs in the state legislature, it is incredibly advantageous to be in power during a census year.

The party that holds a majority during this time period has the ability to redraw districts to favor their party. Redrawing districts for political gain is known as "gerrymandering," and by carefully redrawing districts, politicians can consolidate voter bases in certain districts and ensure a "safe seat" for any party member in that district for the next 10 years.

New York was recently found to have one of the most ineffectual state governments in the country. Part of the reason for this has been the extreme amount of gerrymandering conducted by state Senate Republicans for a very long time, giving them a majority for the better part of the last century.

So what is the Republican motivation? It seems to be that since 2008 was a "Democratic year," the New York State Senate Republicans want to convince voters something along the lines of, "If you elect Democrats, this will happen."

See Taimur on page 7

If the Republicans are successful in delegitimizing the Democrats, they could stand to regain their majority in the state legislature in the upcoming 2009 and 2010 elections. If the Republicans retake enough seats in Albany, they could potentially cement their majority in the legislature for another 10 years.

If anyone is to blame for this, however, it is the State Senate Republicans who engineered the coup in the first place.