Democrats claimed control of the split New York Senate on Tuesday, declaring a quorum after a Republican took a short cut through the chamber because an exterior parlor had been blocked by Democrats for a press conference they never held.
The Democrats began voting on a host of bills stalled by a three-week power struggle and declaring them passed.
It wasn't clear if the Democrats engineered getting GOP Sen. Frank Padavan on the floor, or simply exploited his presence. In any case, the gambit was immediately rejected by Democratic Gov. David Paterson, who said he wouldn't sign any of the legislation.
Paterson ordered the Senate back into a special session at 7 p.m. to take up important, time-senstive bills. They include extensions of several measures set to expire at midnight Tuesday, including mayoral control of New York City schools and a freeze on medical malpractice insurance rates.
"They can have this political fight later," Paterson said. "We don't care who the president of the Senate is, but we are affected when the laws expire and people suffer."
Padavan, a Queens Republican, acknowledged he walked through the chamber, but insists that was before the session started and only because the Senate parlor was blocked. "It's fraud," he said of the Democrats' claim to a quorum.
Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat, said it doesn't matter if Padavan was just walking through. "As soon as you enter the chamber you're recorded as present for the day. These are the rules of the chamber," she said, adding she thought Padavan did it intentionally because there are many important issues at stake.
The Republican senator is an author of the legislation to continue mayoral control of New York City schools. Democratic Sen. John Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat, is backing a measure that would dilute mayoral control.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said summer school will be open Wednesday morning at the appointed time regardless of what the Senate does. "The chaos, the legal challenges, all the uncertainty, we'll face that as it comes up," he said Tuesday.
Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group described Tuesday's move by the Democrats as "a lawyer's dream. It would be a crazy way for the gridlock to be unhinged," he said. But unless someone has a picture of Padavan in the chamber during the session, there's probably no way to prove it, he said.
"We've got to put this trickery behind us," said Sen. Pedro Espada, the dissident Bronx Democrat whose alliance with Republicans has divided the chamber 31-31. "We have got to respect the institution."
The other Democrats continued voting through the afternoon, with Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins presiding and declaring a string of voice votes passed 32-0.