According to Bennett Liebman of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School, it is the Temporary President of the Senate who technically has the power to sign off on the racino deal at Aqueduct for the Senate. Generally, that's the same person as the Majority Leader, which, until quite recently, was Senator Malcolm Smith. Now, after the surreal coup - a bloodless one (thus far) - which has apparently returned control of the Senate to the Republicans, the jobs are split between Dean Skelos, back for a return engagement as Majority Leader, and the President Pro-Tem Pedro Espada. So, it's the latter who will, if he holds his position, make the call on behalf of the Senate. The shameless Skelos may have been more sympathetic to a Belmont project in the name of helping his constituents there (though he didn't care to spare them from draconian increases in their cost of commuting to work).
Espada and Senator Hiram Monserrate of Queens are the two Democrats who blindsided their colleagues by joining the 30 Republicans to elect this so-called "coalition" leadership. (Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini is no doubt chuckling at the expense of the Queens Democratic Party leadership who opted to dump him in favor of Monserrate.) The Republicans had to dive quite deep to snag the dregs of the Democratic Party in order to pull off their coup - Espada has a rap sheet going back to the beginning of the decade, and apparently doesn't even live in the district he represents....while Monserrate will face trial this July for allegedly slashing his girlfriend with a broken glass. The video evidence in that case is compelling enough so that prosecutors proceeded with bringing charges even though the victim retracted her story and claimed that she accidentally fell into the glass during an argument (the Claudine Longet defense).
With Espada in power.....and the Democrats, despite their blustering about having gaveled the session to a close before the vote and having locked the chamber shut (the Republicans threatened to convene elsewhere), don't seem to have a legal leg to stand on here.....don't be surprised if Tom Golisano (or one of Espada's staff members) suddenly throws his hat into the VLT ring! And it's Golisano's open involvement in the proceedings which is what I really can't get over. Imagine, a non-elected official with no connection to government other than his billions of dollars which he freely spreads around to candidates who he feels will serve his purposes (though he supposedly moved to Florida rather than paying higher taxes to the state), standing openly in the state capital with his new found friends and crowing about the change in power - one in stark opposition to what the people voted for last fall - and bitching that Malcolm Smith had the nerve to fiddle with his blackberry when they last met. I mean, who's running things around here??
Well, I could obviously go on....and, though my immediate outrage is reserved for the main players, there's plenty of blame for both sides here, as is usually the case in Albany. And the story is ongoing and absolutely fascinating - may I recommend my two favorite newspaper blogs, the Albany Times Union's Capital Confidential, and the amazingly prolific Elizabeth Benjamin's Daily Politics in the NY Daily News. (The latest development is that Espada has somehow obtained the keys to the chamber....and Governor Paterson, appearing helpless, is calling for a second leadership vote which will no doubt cement the results of the disputed one.)
What we want to know here of course is how this will effect the Aqueduct bidding, and the obvious answer is that it will delay the matter even longer than it already would be. It's been obvious for quite some time that racing isn't high on the Albany radar to start with. Now there's a major new distraction which is likely to extend the legislative session past the scheduled June 22 end that we've been told nothing will happen prior to, and a new player with his own special interests.Paul Post reports on the matter for The Saratogian:
Espada is not on the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee and there’s no way of telling how he’d decide the Aqueduct issue. Until the political dust settles, an agreement of any kind might be impossible.I wouldn't be surprised to see the Aqueduct Entertainment Group be the first one to go. Their bid was blatantly fashioned to appeal to Malcolm Smith; they seem to have miscalculated. The former Majority Leader is currently fighting to hold on to any kind of leadership position, and the prognosis is grim....as is the prognosis for NYRA seeing the light of slots revenue day before they run out of cash. Who will be in power when they come running back to Albany for money is anyone's guess.
The other danger is that frustrated Aqueduct bidders might get fed up with New York’s turbulent situation and walk away from the project. “I would suspect that’s always been a problem for the out-of-state people who were already lukewarm to the situation in New York,” Liebman said. “This certainly isn’t going to make them any more enthusiastic about the prospect of doing business here.” [The Saratogian]