updated 7/9/2009 6:10:08 PM ET 2009-07-09T22:10:08

New York’s Senate standoff ended Thursday as it started 31 days ago, with a freshman Democrat shifting the balance of power in the 62-seat chamber by switching sides and getting a powerful leadership post in the majority.

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Bronx Sen. Pedro Espada’s return to the Democratic conference gives Democrats a 32-30 majority for the first time since the June 8 coup. As part of the deal, Espada takes the title of Senate majority leader.

Espada’s move comes after Democratic Gov. David Paterson’s abrupt appointment of a lieutenant governor to preside over the Senate, giving his party the upper hand in a chamber that’s been divided 31-31.

“It was never about power, but about empowerment,” Espada said at a Democratic news conference where he was introduced as the majority leader.

“As Democrats, we have differences of opinion, different concerns,” said Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens, now president of the Senate but no longer majority leader. “Yet at the end of the day, Democrats always come together.”

For more than a month, the Senate’s paralysis stalled action on mayoral control of New York City’s schools, taxing authority in some municipalities and economic development programs.

“The Democrats are back in charge now,” said Sen. Jeffrey Klein, a Bronx Democrat and deputy majority leader.

Espada and fellow Democratic Sens. Ruben Diaz and Hiram Monserrate said the end of the standoff is a victory for Latinos, providing them a greater voice in Albany.

“Today really is 31 days of chaos ending,” said Monserrate, a one-time dissident whose pending felony assault charge divided Republicans and Democrats early in the session. “Judge us not on what has occurred over the last 31 days ... but judge us on what we do with this
extraordinary opportunity.”

GOP claims partial victory
Republicans accepted their return to the minority, where they were for just the past six months after holding the majority since 1965, but still tried to claim some victory. They say the reforms adopted during the coup — which gives the minority equal resources and power to move bills — are an improvement over their status before the uprising.

That will give them a far better chance of getting their bills passed and more funding for their districts, all of which should help them in elections in a state increasingly dominated by Democratic voters.

“I’m very disappointed but in my mind this was never about a power grab, but about reform,” said Republican Sen. Thomas Libous of Broome County.

“Upstate is going to be a player,” said Republican Sen. George Maziarz of Niagara County. “We have a conference of 30 strong and with these reforms ... we won’t be rolled over.”

Rank-and-file Democrats welcomed Espada back. That was a contrast to the name-calling of the past five weeks, when many Democrats said they would never serve under Espada in a leadership position. Others called him a thug and turncoat.

“I’m a Democrat, I don’t decide who comes to the Democratic party,” said Sen. Eric Adams of Brooklyn. “I welcome anyone into the Democratic party.”

All 62 senators met briefly Thursday, but refused to act on any of the critical bills Paterson ordered them to consider on the 19th day of a special session called by the governor. Democrats are expected to return to regular session Thursday night, pass all the bills, then go home.

The regular session ended June 22.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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