New York state's divided Senate on Monday presented a united front of Democrats and Republicans facing post-Sandy devastation in Queens, vowing to tackle the problems together.
The news conference in the storm-battered Rockaways was the first test of the Senate's new coalition government, which will control the perks and power of the majority beginning Jan. 1. In an unprecedented deal last week, Republicans allied with five breakaway Democrats to deny majority control to the traditional Democratic conference, even though it had won more seats in the November election than Republicans.
Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, said Monday after touring the Rockaways that it's "unacceptable" so many homes in the area he represents still have no heat or hot water six weeks after the storm hit. He joined the tour of the neighborhood with other legislators from areas still struggling to regain basic services.
The task force goals are to identify the areas most in need of recovery assistance, a task already under way by federal and Cuomo administration officials; review and improve rebuilding and storm planning policies, a task already assigned to one of the three commissions created after Sandy by Gov. Andrew Cuomo; and to develop legislation to implement findings of Cuomo's commissions.
Three legislative reports since 2005 and a 1978 law required similar preventive measures to prepare for a superstorm like Sandy, but most of the recommendations weren't implemented as political attention waned and in the face of hard fiscal choices in state budgeting.
The task force will be headed Smith and Republican Sen. Andrew Lanza of Staten Island. Of the task force's other eight members, four are Republicans, two are Independent Democratic Conference members, and two are members of the traditional Democratic conference.
Smith joined the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference last week hours before the Republicans and the IDC created their power-sharing agreement. He provided the coalition of two separate conferences its only non-white member, although racial tensions remain from the traditional Democratic conference, which includes with more than a dozen black and Latino senators.
The Senate's Republican majority is scheduled to meet Tuesday in Albany behind closed doors to discuss plans for running the chamber in 2013, with the IDC. A month ago, it had appeared Republicans lost their last bastion of power in New York state politics after ruling the Senate for most of a century in a state that now has a nearly 2-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage.