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HARLEM DEMOCRAT WINS BITTER BATTLE
FOR SENATE MINORITY LEADER POST

A bloodless coup was pulled off Tuesday at the state Capitol with the ouster of Brooklyn Democrat Martin Connor as minority leader of the State Senate.

Ending Connor's eight-year reign was State Sen. David Patterson, a Harlem Democrat who becomes the first black in New York to hold a state legislative conference leadership job.

In a bitter leadership battle over the past two weeks, Patterson rounded up enough support to topple Connor.

The post, which draws little attention outside of Albany, offers its new occupant a visible seat from which to oppose Republican policies at the State Capitol.

State Sen. William Stachowski, D-Buffalo, a Connor ally, also is expected to lose his job as top Democrat on the influential Senate Finance Committee. Stachowski sided with Connor until the end, Patterson allies said.

"He's out," one Patterson backer said of Stachowski.

The Buffalo Democrat said he supports Patterson, but that he doesn't know the fate of his committee post, which sources say now may go to State Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany.

However, Buffalo's other Democratic state senator, Byron Brown, is in line for a new leadership post himself after siding early on with Patterson.

"There was a feeling that we really needed to shake things up, that we needed to move in a different direction," Brown said.

The minority leader post has little real power in Albany. With 25 Democrats in the 62-member Senate, there is no seat at the negotiating table with Gov. George E. Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

What bills the Senate Democrats do get passed come only with the blessing of Bruno, and they are almost always minor in scope. "Pork barrel" allotments are table scraps.

There are some perks, however. The minority leader gets the legislative base pay of $79,500, plus a stipend of $34,500, has a staff of about 120 people, a car and driver and four offices in Albany and New York.

Despite its lack of any major power, the leadership fight got ugly -- and petty -- over the last week.

Patterson allies said Connor cut into their office supply allotments, while usual friends ended up in screaming matches over the coup bid as racial issues emerged between Connor, who is white, and Patterson.

Connor also did himself no favors when he did legal work for Independence Party gubernatorial candidate B. Thomas Golisano, a retainer that paid him and his lawyers about $250,000.

Connor insisted Democratic candidate H. Carl McCall was OK with his Golisano work, but Senate Democrats said Connor never informed any of them. Democrats also have lost seats in the last couple elections.

In Patterson, the Senate Democrats have selected a far more liberal voice of opposition than Connor.

Republicans were privately gleeful Tuesday, noting that it will make their re-election chances easier in the future if they can run against the left-of-center Patterson, who was supported in his takeover by Rev. Al Sharpton.

Patterson allies dismiss that and say Republicans will be treated to a Democratic leader who will relish loudly challenging GOP policies -- something Connor usually did with only a muted voice.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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