MINEOLA, N.Y. (CN) – Democrats control the state Senate again after a monthlong stalemate that Gov. David Paterson said cost the state $125 million to $150 million in uncollected taxes. But two state senators have sued Paterson in Nassau County Court, claiming that his appointment of a lieutenant governor is unconstitutional.
The governor’s move is expected end up before state’s highest Court of Appeals.
Paterson appointed 76-year-old attorney Richard Ravitch, who was sworn in at a Brooklyn steakhouse to help break the 31-31 tie.
The appointment was immediately challenged by Republicans.
A Nassau County judge granted Senate Republicans’ request for an order suspending the appointment.
Ravitch, former head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has been served with a retraining order which blocks him from “exercising the duties of the office.” That case is pending.
The drama quelled a bit when state Senator Pedro Espada Jr. re-defected to the Democratic Party under a deal that made him the new Majority Leader.
Espada is one of the senators who filed the suit against the governor and was one of the orchestrators of the June “coup” by Republicans and two Democrats.
The president of the Senate is second in command behind the governor, in the absence of a lieutenant governor.
Since 1892, the lieutenant governor’s post has been vacant 10 times. No governor has ever attempted to appoint one.
“It’s not unconstitutional because there’s nothing in the constitution about it,” Paterson said during a press conference in Albany.
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit acknowledges: “The Constitution is silent on the situation when the lieutenant governor ascends to the office of governor.
“The fact that the Constitution is silent has long been properly understood to be that the office is unfilled until the next election,” the complaint states.
Paterson has hired a team of private lawyers to defend him after Attorney General Andrew Cuomo declined his request to represent him.
Cuomo said the appointment is unconstitutional.
Cuomo also declined a request to file the plaintiffs’ complaint against Paterson.
Paterson cited Section 43 of the public officers’ law, which authorizes the governor to fill a vacancy by appointment, if it’s an elected position, until the next election.
However, his opponents cite Section 6 of the New York Constitution, which gives authority to the president of the Senate to “perform all duties of a lieutenant governor during such vacancy.”
A lieutenant governor can break tie votes on procedural matters but not on legislation.
A recent Siena College poll found 75 percent of New Yorkers “angry” at senators for spending a month “accomplishing nothing,” and 62 percent of registered voters said they will remember the stalemate on Election Day in 2010.
The governor expects stiff competition from Republicans and from his own party. Rudy Giuliani said he’s considering a run for governor and Cuomo will challenge him in the primary. Cuomo’s campaign war chest today is twice as big as Paterson’s cash on hand.
State Senator Dean Skelos is the other plaintiff in the latest case. Skelos was briefly the Republican Majority Leader before his double switch, although he was never recognized as such by Democrats.
Skelos is represented by David L. Lewis in Manhattan and Espada by John Ciampoli in Albany.
Paterson, Ravitch and New York Secretary of State Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez were named as defendants.