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NY State Senate Votes to Oust Monserrate
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, NY –
After a five hour marathon closed door conference, Senate Democrats emerged with two resolutions. One would immediately expel Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was convicted of a misdemeanor in a domestic violence incident. The other, a compromise created by Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, would put off the expulsion until June 30th, to give Monserrate time for the appeal of his conviction to wind its way through the courts.
But, in the end, the 30 Republicans in the Senate voted for the immediate ouster of Monserrate, along with most of the Democrats for a final tally of 53 to 8.
Monserrate rose to his own defense on the Senate floor, saying Senators did not have the power to expel him, and that only the voters in his district had the right to judge his "sins", by deciding whether or not to send him back to Albany. Monserrate, saying he'd been made a "scapegoat" for a recent spate of corruption at the Capitol, also charged that racial prejudice against Hispanics may be behind the vote to oust him from the Senate.
"The process that this body has used has not only deprived me of my due process," said Monserrate. "It has also disenfranchised the voters of my majority-minority district."
Monserrate asked for forgiveness for the December 2008 domestic violence incident that led to his misdemeanor assault conviction.
"It was a reckless act," said Monserrate. "and for that I'm sorry."
No Senator spoke in favor of the expulsion on the Senate floor, they just raised their hands in silence.
Earlier, the sponsor of the resolution, Senator Brian Foley, a Long Island Democrat, says it was necessary to remove Monserrate because of his unacceptable and violent conduct.
"In this state and this age, that kind of behavior is totally appalling," said Foley. "And it's something that's unbecoming of any State Senator."
Those voting against the expulsion included several Latino lawmakers, including Senator Ruben Diaz, Senator Pedro Espada, and Senator Martin Dilan.
Some, including Senator Kevin Parker, charged that it was "pay back" for Monserrate's participation in the Senate coup last summer. Senator Monserrate, along with Senator Pedro Espada, changed sides to form a coalition with the Republicans. Democrats persuaded Monserrate to return a few days later, creating a stalemate. As a result, Senator Monserrate made enemies in both parties, says Parker.
"We can't ignore the political ramifications of what's going on," said Parker.
Senator Parker is himself facing assault charges for allegedly attacking a news photographer.
Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson also voted against ousting Monserrate. Sampson, a defense attorney, did not speak to the media, but issued a statement, saying that he did not believe that the Senate should have acted to expel Monserrate while his conviction was under appeal.
The June 30th expulsion date that Sampson had sought would have also ensured that Senate Democrats could hold on to their narrow 32 seat majority for the remainder of the session. The expulsion leaves the Senate Democrats with just 31 votes, enough to pass legislation, but not enough members to form a quorum, should Republicans refuse to cooperate.
Governor David Paterson has called a special election for March 16th, but Monserrate is seeking an injunction against the Senate vote, which could delay the election. And he says his attorneys, who include the civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, will seek immediate legal redress.
"They will be in court as soon as humanly possible," said Monserrate.
Meanwhile, at least one Senator who voted against Monseratte's expulsion, Senator Ruben Diaz, has threatened to switch sides and vote with the Republicans.