Senate’s New Democratic Leader Is Mum on Same-Sex Marriage

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The New York Sun

The incoming Democratic leader of the state Senate, Malcolm Smith, received a rousing ovation from the party’s elder statesmen yesterday, then spent his first public appearance dodging questions about his position on same-sex marriage.

Mr. Smith, who represents southeast Queens, addressed reporters for the first time since the Senate’s Democratic caucus selected him to replace the outgoing minority leader, David Paterson, who is running for lieutenant governor on Eliot Spitzer’s ticket.

With the election a month away, Mr. Smith all but conceded that his party would not win control of the Senate this year. He listed as his top immediate priority the effort to achieve a 30-to 40-point victory for Messrs. Spitzer and Paterson, and he vowed to engineer a Democratic victory in the state Senate in 2008. The GOP has an eight-seat majority in the Senate, and the Democrats are not expected to significantly narrow that gap in next month’s elections.

Mr. Smith won the leadership battle over another Queens senator, Eric Schneiderman, and he is known for being more conservative than many members of his caucus on some policy issues. At yesterday’s news conference at City Hall, the incoming leader was hesitant to express his view on issues; he repeatedly refused to disclose his position on same-sex marriage. State Senator Thomas Duane, who stood behind Mr. Smith yesterday, has sponsored legislation to legalize gay marriage; the bill was supported by Mr. Paterson.

“When Senator Paterson was the leader, he was supporting Tom Duane, and as a good soldier, I was supporting Senator Paterson,” Mr. Smith said. He did not say whether he would support the bill next year. “You have to at least give me the opportunity to talk to my colleagues, and find out how they feel about it,” he said.

Mr. Duane, who represents part of Manhattan, appeared unfazed by Mr. Smith’s response, saying the nominee had “to make sure he’s being sensitive to a lot of people.”

“I’m not disappointed, because I’m not disappointed in his position on marriage,” Mr. Duane said at City Hall.

He issued a statement later in the day saying that Mr. Smith had “assured” him that he supports the legislation.

Dozens of Democratic leaders filled the City Hall steps behind Mr. Smith yesterday in a show of party unity. The dignitaries included a former state comptroller and gubernatorial candidate, H. Carl McCall; the dean of the city’s congressional delegation, Rep. Charles Rangel; the Democratic county leaders from the Bronx and Queens; union officials, and several members of the state Assembly, Senate, and City Council.

The New York Sun

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