One state senator's urge for a Coca Cola led to the latest fracas inside the New York State Capitol building in Albany on Tuesday.
As state Democrats convened around noon to hold a one-party session, Republican Sen. Frank Padavan of Queens walked through the chamber on a hunt for the soda machine -- a caffeine quest that would later result with him being tallied as voting with the Democrats.
Padavan reportedly claimed he was taking a short-cut to the members' lounge, but the 31 Democrats seized the opportunity to count him as their 32nd vote and unanimously passed 125 bills in three hours with Republicans absent -- the latest attempt to break the 3-week-old stalemate that has caused a power struggle in Albany.
Democrats won a majority in New York's state Legislature in November following 40 years of Republican control over the state Senate. But in an effort to toss power back to the GOP, two rebellious Democrats -- Sen. Pedro Espada of the Bronx and Sen. Hiram Monserrate of Queens -- switched parties June 8 to join the Republicans. Monserrate, however, has since rejoined the Democrats, creating a 31-31 stalemate in the Senate.
Among the bills passed Tuesday were a measure to permit Nassau County to use bonds to pay termination payments instead of laying off county workers and a proposal to increase Suffolk County's hotel-motel tax.
Republicans blasted the Democrats' inclusion of Padavan as fraudulent, while Democrats insisted the bills had been lawfully passed.
"They stooped to new lows today by conducting a mock session that they had no authority to call," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. "They resorted to fraud to justify their legitimacy and in the process impugned the reputation of a member who has served 37 years. And they have kept us from doing the people's business these last three weeks because they refuse to accept what happened on June 8th."
But a state Democratic aide -- speaking on background -- insisted that the passage of bills did not break any rules. The aide said that senate journal clerk Lisa Copeland -- not the Democratic state senators themselves -- counted Padavan in "accordance to procedures and customs."
"Our legal team has concluded that yesterday's procedures were entirely proper under the New York state constitution, the laws of the state of New York, and long standing senate rules and procedures," Gregory Krakower, director of the senate policy group and special counsel said in a statement.
In an affidavit filed Tuesday, Copeland said: "During these opening proceedings and after the start of session, I noticed that Senator Frank Padavan walked across the back of the Senate Chamber and looked upward toward the Senate desk where the deputy journal clerk is located and where I take attendance. Based on my personal observation of Senator Padavan in the ordinary course of Senate business, I marked him present on my Senate attendance sheet."
New York Gov. Paterson has said he will not sign any of the bills into law -- citing Padavan's seemingly unintentional presence in the chamber on Tuesday. Padavan, who has been in the state Senate for 36 years, reportedly claims he left the chamber before any bills were voted on.
"My only motive was to get in the lounge and get a Coke or cup of coffee," Padavan said in interview with Newsday. "I was not in there when the session began. To say otherwise is totally untrue."
Padavan could not be reached for an interview.