The real Senator Smith, his conscience, his partner, the trinity, the man he kisses and the chemist who helped get them there...Malcolm Smith began his time as majority leader not by announcing appointments, but by revealing the nicknames he has for some of his members and the private traditions he shares with others.
In a smaller room above the ballroom where he had just been announced as the new State Senate majority leader by Gov. David Paterson, Smith stood with eight other Democratic senators—including Jeff Klein, Eric Schneiderman and Liz Krueger, all of whom have been on people’s lips as potential rivals for leader in recent weeks—for a quiet address to close supporters and staff. Mobbed as he entered the room, he received dozens of congratulations and blessings, including one from Assembly Member Dov Hikind who put his hands on Smith’s cheeks and said “God be with you.”
Following a cheer of “Malcolm, Malcolm” initiated by Klein and Diane Savino, Smith began by thanking and introducing his wife, Michelle, who got the first nickname of the night.
“Everyone kind of knows, this is Senator Smith right here,” his hands rubbing her shoulders.
But there were more people to thank, and more creative nicknames to dole out. Doug Forand, the chief strategist for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Smith singled out as “the chemist,” explaining, “those of you who know science know he who is the chemist is usually one who engineers all that happens in the future.”
Far from a potential political antagonist, Smith introduced Klein as “my partner.” John Sampson, meanwhile, Smith called “my conscience.”
“He seems to call me at 4 in the morning, at 6 in the morning, at 12 at night at one in the morning,” Smith said, adding “he was the secretary to the minority—I’m not making any announcements on appointments, but he’s now going to be something to the majority.”
Thomas Duane, whom Smith called both “a young man” and “my dear friend,” was “someone who I love and I always kiss him,” Smith said, before reaching back and doing just that as he embraced Duane.
(To those looking to read the tea leaves for the agenda from Smith’s speech, this might be the clearest sign: Duane, who is the Senate’s only openly gay member, carries the bill which would legalize gay marriage in New York. Smith shied away from making a clear statement just a week ago about what he would do on gay marriage if the Democrats took the majority, but many expect that legalization will be a major priority.)
Schneiderman’s nickname came as part of a group: together, along with Paterson and himself, Schneiderman was part of “the trinity,” Smith said.
Each senator present got some mention, though the others were somewhat less pithy. Daniel Squadron got special attention from Smith for his efforts to train campaign workers who went out to other campaigns following Squadron’s primary win in September which he said was a measure of “how strong this conference will be.” Savino and Ruth Hassell Thompson were introduced as future chairs, though to what committee remained unnamed, and Krueger, got special mention from Smith as someone who “will debate you until you can no longer think.”
Though giving special attention to several interest groups and unions, including NARAL, the Working Families Party, 32 BJ and RWDSU, Smith avoided laying out a specific agenda, though he did say that he expected Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf to continue to help with messaging as they pursued their goals.
“We are going to put New York back to work, we are going to make sure that our property tax in this state is one you can afford to live with,” he said. “We are going to make sure that the rules of the Senate are changed so that all of you have input to what we do, so that our committees can function like real committees like Congress does.”
Later, he said that more would be clear after the meeting Democrats will hold Wednesday afternoon in Albany to discuss the plans for their new majority.
“We have been planning for a transition at least six months back, and what we do tomorrow is we will talk tomorrow to trim the budget as the governor asked us to do and talk to the members on how we look to reorganize and we’ll come out with a schedule of things to do,” he said.
He said that as of Tuesday night, no decisions had been made about assignments to committee chairs.