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Smith splits to work with GOP in Albany

State Sen. Malcolm Smith plans to caucus with the Independent Democrats, who will share power with Senate Republicans.
TimesLedger Newspapers

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), who earlier this year tested the waters for a Republican nomination in next year’s mayoral race, will break from the Democratic Party to work with the GOP when the Senate reconvenes in January.

At stake is control of the state Senate, where Democrats appear to have won a majority of the seats in the November election. But Smith’s decision to join Republicans in a power-sharing arrangement will prevent the Democrats from exercising their clout as the party with the most members in the upper house.

Two years ago four Democratic senators, led by Bronx Sen. Jeffrey Klein, broke from their party to form the Independent Democratic Conference and caucus with the Republicans.

On Tuesday, the Republicans and the IDC announced a new partnership in which the two conferences will share power in the new legislative session.

In a statement issued by both conferences, Smith said he was joining the IDC in the name of bipartisanship.

“Our state’s biggest issues are too important to address on a narrowly focused, partisan basis,” Smith said. “Over the past two years, Sen. Klein and his colleagues in the IDC have shown that they’re driven by policy, not politics. They have delivered on an impressive bipartisan agenda, have stayed true to their Democratic principles and have laid the groundwork for an historic bipartisan model of governing.”

In August, Smith met with the five county Republican chairs in New York City to discuss running for mayor on the GOP ticket. Because he is a registered Democrat, Smith would need the endorsement of three out of five county chairs.

Smith is no stranger to shifting alliances in the Senate. He was the majority leader in 2009 when four Democrats broke with the party to caucus with Republicans, shifting power to the GOP side. The so-called “Gang of Four” refused to back Smith as the Democratic majority leader and tried to make their own deals.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Massapequa Park) said the Senate’s rules will be rewritten to formally recognize the IDC as a third party, and every two weeks he and Klein will alternate as “temporary president.”

The Senate was still waiting for the results from two upstate races to determine which party would hold the majority.

The Democrats picked up three seats in November to give them a 31-30 advantage over Republicans, but soon afterward Sen.-elect Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) said he would caucus with the Republicans.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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