Senate for Sale

GOP Uses Public Pots of Gold to Entice Converts

In Brooklyn, Bruno again used both reapportionment and member-items to dramatically improve his chances of gaining seats. Initially creating a district for Dear, who ran on the Republican line for Congress in 2000 while supporting U.S. Senate candidate Rick Lazio and the Bush-Cheney ticket, Bruno unnerved Kruger, who was losing key parts of his district to Dear. In the end, Kruger, who endorsed Rudy Giuliani two years ago, got the safe district he wanted, where he is on the Democratic and Republican lines. Dear is running in a new black district against two blacks, posing as a Democrat.

Not only did Kruger become vice chair of Democrats for Pataki, he has remained nominally neutral in the battle for the Bay Ridge senate seat between GOP councilman Marty Golden and incumbent Democratic senator Vincent Gentile. Kruger has made no formal endorsement, but he has done campaign appearances with Golden and none with Gentile. Kruger's refusal to back Gentile is crucial because large chunks of his old district—where he is very popular—are now in Gentile's.

Kruger told the Voice that his member-item budget has increased as a result of his new alliance with the Republicans, but refused to say how much. He would not answer questions about the possibility of changing his party alignment other than to say "my name is not Pedro Espada; call me Ed Koch," another frequent Republican backer who's still a registered Democrat. Senate Democratic leader Marty Connor is suing to overturn the redistricting lines Bruno and Pataki approved, calling them an assault on the census and the city, with "the population of upstate districts averaging 5 percent less than the statewide mean while the population of city districts hit 5 percent more." He is so disturbed by the blatant use of member-items to seduce Democrats that he scolded Republican leaders in a Voice interview. "Using public funds for political leverage is immoral and possibly illegal," he said. "It epitomizes everything that's wrong with the way the state senate functions."

Connor insists that Bruno can only get away with these maneuvers so long as there is a Republican governor. "Fred Ohrenstein was the Democratic leader in the senate for 20 years and no member switched," argued Connor, pointing out that there was a Democratic governor throughout the same period. Just as Pataki is steering more funding into Kruger's district though he remains a Democrat, a Democratic governor would have had the financial discretion to counter Bruno's tantalizing offers. Instead, Connor's only ostensible Albany ally, Silver, pushed Robach to desert and seems more interested in topping 100 assembly seats than in supplying electable Democrats to his senate colleagues.

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