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Senate committee to probe Monserrate case

Senate Democrats Tuesday said they will form a committee to consider disciplining embattled Sen. Hiram Monserrate, raising the specter of another political battle in the fractious, closely divided chamber.

“It’s a mess,” said Helen Desfosses, a professor of public policy at the state University at Albany. “The Senate needs this like a hole in the head.”

State Sen. John Sampson of Brooklyn, the Democratic conference leader, said he was “not only angry but pissed off” at Monserrate because of his misdemeanor conviction for assaulting his girlfriend. Nevertheless, in appointing five Democrats – four of them women – to serve on the nine-member committee, Sampson vowed an impartial review of the case.

The committee will make a recommendation to the full Senate, which could vote to expel or discipline him in less severe ways.

Fissures already have appeared in the Democratic caucus, with some expressing support for Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) and others fiercely denouncing him.

With a slim 32-30 edge, any Democrat can cause headaches for the body, as was evident during the recent deadlock, which paralyzed the capital for more than a month. 

If Monserrate is ousted or resigns, the seat would be vacant until a special election, further complicating the balance of power.

“It certainly has the potential to cause a lot of disruption,” said Larry Norden, of the Brennan Center for Justice, an Albany watchdog. “You’re going to continue to potentially have a situation where there is a complete stalemate and nothing gets done.”

Monserrate, who met with Sampson on Monday, released a statement Tuesday saying he intends to “cooperate fully” with the inquiry.

The Republican leadership criticized the committee, which will have four Republicans, saying the matter should be referred to the equally divided ethics committee.

“Sen. Sampson has raised the question of whether this can truly be a fair
process and a nonpartisan investigation,” said Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who did not announce the GOP appointees.

Sampson said he wanted a committee that could not produce a tie vote.

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