Jeff Klein Dances On The Graves of FDR and RFK

NICK REISMAN:  Sen. Jeff Klein’s posing in front of the campaign posters of Franklin Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson for today’s New York Times story was a clear, strong visual message: I’m a classic Democrat.

Klein in the story floated a leadership sharing arrangement with the Senate Republicans, a move he said would help the chamber continue to function.

But FDR and RFK are interesting choices to illustrate the story on a deeper level, given their roles in past fights in the state Senate that crippled any progress in the chamber….

…In 1911, Roosevelt as a newly elected state senator blocked the Tammany Hall-appointee for the U.S. Senate, back when Legislatures had that power, which was ultimately a way of granting patronage posts.

Roosevelt, along with a group of fellow reformist lawmakers, kept the chamber deadlocked for 74 days and ultimately the Tammany choice was blocked.

Kennedy’s role is a bit more opaque, but interesting nevertheless. Elected in New York to the U.S. Senate in 1964, Kennedy took office at the time a newly empowered Democrat majority won control of the state Senate.

But in an amazingly similar chain of events to what happened 2008 and 2009, the chamber was fraught with Democratic in-fighting over leadership, paralyzing any activity. At one point, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was unsure if he could even deliver his State of the State address, since the chamber had not picked a leader.

“Since they didn’t have a leader initially, they couldn’t do anything at all,” Mahoney said. “They had 75 separate leadership votes.”

The dominate theory at the time was that RFK was working behind the scenes in the state Democratic Party for his own choices to lead both the Assembly and Senate, part of a larger battle with New York City Mayor Robert Wagner. In the end, aides to Rockefeller had to mediate the dispute….

Well actually:

1) In 1911, after a three-month long deadlock in the New York State Legislature, Judge James O'Gorman was elected as a Democrat to serve in the U.S. Senate. Tammany boss Charles Francis Murphy wanted his upstate ally, former Lieutenant Governor  William F. Sheehan to be elected, but a faction of the Democratic Party, led by State Senator Franklin D. Roosevelt, blocked Sheehan's election. After 62 ballots in 73 days, and three dozens of names voted for, the Democrats compromised on Justice O'Gorman.

If Franklin Roosevelt had instead behaved liked Jeff Klein, the rebel Democrats would have joined the Republicans in instead re-electing the despicable incumbent Chauncey Depew.

Depew once introduced a fellow Republican, the corpulent Williams Howard Taft, at a breakfast by saying Taft was ``pregnant with integrity, pregnant with courage.''

Taft, replied `If it's a girl, I shall call her integrity. If a boy, courage. But if it is, as I suspect, nothing more than gas, I'll call it Chauncey DePew.''

2) In actuality, Jeff Klein is not behaving like the dynamic rebellious Robert Kennedy in this leadership fight; he is behaving like the tired hack Robert Wagner. Kennedy’s candidate for Senate Leader, Jack Bronston, and Assembly Speaker, Stanley Steingut, were backed by the Majority of their conferences. According to Jack Newfield in “Robert Kennedy: A Memoir,”:

Although a majority of Democrats supported both Steingut and Bronston for leadership, Travia and Zaretski refused to accept the verdict of the party caucus and took their case before the entire legislature even though twenty one of the thirty three Senate  Democrats voted  for Bronston, and Steingut, at times, outpolled Travia by a vote for 52 to 35. With the Republicans voting for their own candidates, no one approached a majority”

In other words:

a) Kennedy did not advocate defying the will of the Democratic Conference; he advocated supporting it.

b) The rebels, who were the anti-Kennedy faction, did not deliver the control of the Senate (and the Assembly) to the GOP; rather, the rebels had the GOP deliver control of the Senate to them.

c) The rebels, though a minority, were a significant minority. There were more than four of them. Moreover, both sides were racially diverse, unlike Klein’s Paleface Caucus.  

d) Given how events transpired in 65, Nelson Rockefeller proved himself a better Democrat than Andrew Cuomo .