2008-12-26 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Put A Fork In Malcolm Smith's Leadership Career - He's Done!
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Last week I wrote in this space that all politicians are whores. They will do anything to get reelected, anything for the semblance of power.

State Senator Malcolm Smith, who represents Rockaway, is the poster boy for that concept.

Right out of college, Smith went to work for City Councilman Archie Spigner, the archetypical Democratic political hack who delivered for his district and himself in any way necessary.

After Spigner, he latched onto the Reverend Floyd Flake, a popular preacher who became an even more popular member of the House of Representatives.

Smith converted and joined Flake's church.

He was at Flake's side when the Congressman was charged with taking money that was earmarked for senior citizen programs, but was diverted instead to his church school.

Flake was eventually cleared of the charges.

Smith left politics for a while and spent some time as a developer of affordable homes in the Arverne section of Rockaway, most of them on the bay.

The homes, the great majority of them sold to low-income households with guaranteed mortgages, started to have problems as soon as residents moved in. There were reports of flooded basements, leaky roofs, and kitchens with major electrical problems.

His development company went bankrupt. Smith was sued by a courtappointed trustee who alleged that Smith had diverted money owed to his creditors into subsidiaries under his control.

The suit was settled when Smith paid out a few thousand dollars to the creditors.

There was a question of an illegitimate child that he is reportedly still paying to take care of.

Then, there was his charter school, the Peninsula Preparatory School, which started out at Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway and then moved to a property on Foam Place before moving to trailers at Arverne By The Sea. One might well question the way the charter was granted to a powerful State Senator and then how the money for the new building was allocated. And, now questions arise about how his charter was chosen to move to Arverne By The Sea.

Did his being one of the most powerful politicians in the state - the minority leader of the State Senate - have anything to do with the selection of his school?

If you don't think that it did, you haven't been paying attention and I know a bridge you can buy that will soon have a nice toll to provide you with a good return on your investment.

Smith returned to politics when Al Waldon left the State Senate to become a judge.

Gregory Meeks, who had moved from the Assembly to the House of Representatives when Flake left, thanks to Geraldine Chapey and other local political hacks, talked Smith into coming back to take Waldon's seat. Smith won a special election handily, especially with support from a number of party organizations as well as Meeks and Flake, who became one of the most powerful religious figures in the city.

Smith, whose motto is "relationships yield results," quickly moved up in the Democratic hierarchy in the Senate, where the party was in the minority for the last 40 years.

A few years ago, Smith became the minority leader, the fourth most-powerful post in the state.

Then came the election of 2008.

And, with it, what has been called either "The Gang of Three," or "The Three Amigos."

For the first time in 40 years, the Democrats won a majority in the State Senate, capturing 32 seats, a slim twoseat majority.

Democrats rejoiced.

Smith readied himself to be named Majority Leader of the State Senate - the second most important position in state government, right behind his friend, Governor David Paterson.

The third, of course, is the Democratic Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver.

Immediately after the election, however, three Democratic State Senators, Ruben Diaz, Karl Kruger and Pedro Espada, announced that they wanted more power for Hispanics and that the three would caucus with the Republicans, leaving that party in control with Senator Dean Skelos as the Majority Leader.

After some negotiations, the three agreed to support Smith, but only with considerations.

Espada was to be the Majority Leader, while Smith would get a new title - President Pro Tem of the Senate.

Kruger would become the chair of the most powerful committee in the Senate - the Finance Committee.

Diaz, a conservative on social issues, got a promise that the Senate would not back same-sex marriage, something that many Democrats had promised in their election campaigns.

When the majority of the Democratic Senators heard about the deal, however, they went ballistic.

Bill Hammond, who writes regularly in the Daily News about Albany politics, likened Smith to Giant Wide Receiver Plaxico Burress, who shot himself in the thigh and was put permanently on the sidelines for the rest of the season.

"Smith played a key role in winning the Super Bowl of Albany politics - achieving a Democratic majority for the first time in 43 years," he wrote recently. "Then, a little like the Giants' star receiver, he shot himself in the foot.

First, he let himself get sucked into a very ugly deal with the three amigos. Then, he compounded the damage 100 times over with a series of PR blunders."

Hammond says that Smith gave away the store.

His party colleagues felt the same way and did not mince words with Smith.

On December 10, Smith released a prepared statement after several days of refusing to talk with reporters about the deal.

"Today, I am announcing that the Democratic members of the State Senate have elected to cease negotiations on reorganization matter with the three senators as discussed both in private and in the press," he wrote.

"We are suspending negotiations, effective immediately, because to do otherwise would reduce our moral standing and the long-term Senate Democratic commitment to reform and to change."

Does that sound like a leader to you? The vultures are circling.

The new Senate will be sworn in on January 1, only a week away.

What will happen?

Your guess is as good as mine, but I don't believe that Smith will ever be the Senate Majority Leader.

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