Two state lawmakers from Western New York are bitterly vying to be the head of the Assembly's Republican Conference, a group of legislators with no real power or the prospect of getting any soon.
The intrigue began just before the Assembly approved additional state budget changes, when Assembly Minority Leader Charles H. Nesbitt of Albion called his colleague, Daniel J. Burling of Castile, into his Capitol office. The combative session, which Burling called "an inquisition" as he was questioned about efforts to unseat Nesbitt, set off a furious dash by Burling and his allies to mount a coup against Nesbitt, who has been the Assembly's GOP leader for three years.
By the time the session began Wednesday morning, Assembly Republicans found themselves at the center of attention.
Shortly after noon, when lawmakers recessed for the week, Nesbitt still held his leadership post. Nesbitt's allies already were talking about political retribution against Burling and his supporters, while Burling and his backers said the fight could drag on for months.
"I don't think it ever had a gasp of air," said Nesbitt, who leads a band of 45 lawmakers in the 150-member Assembly.
Nesbitt talked of a period of "healing" but threatened that the attempted coup would result in "some reaction" against the plotters. Chiefly, he pointed to Burling, who holds the post of deputy whip with a $15,000 annual stipend, as likely being among the first casualties.
The anti-Nesbitt mood has been festering all year, Burling said, and it erupted Tuesday night as lawmakers milled about waiting for budget bills. He said Republicans approached him to oust Nesbitt, whom he described as being adrift and without a steady policy direction. "We just don't stand for anything," Burling said.
Burling contends that nearly half the GOP members of the Assembly support him. Nesbitt put the number at about 12. No GOP lawmakers from Western New York are backing Burling, according to members of the delegation.
Burling insists that he had no designs on Nesbitt's job and that the coup attempt was given life by Nesbitt's "overreaction" to rank-and-file grumbling Tuesday night. "I'm committed now," he said on the Assembly floor Wednesday morning.
According to Burling, Nesbitt is too close to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan. "I don't think any other leader has been that cozy with Shelly," Burling said of Nesbitt.
Silver stayed far away from the GOP unrest. "It's not something we care about or have an opinion on," he said.
Nesbitt noted the "irony" of an attempted coup coming in a year when lawmakers adopted an on-time budget for the first time since 1984 and Republicans were able to extract reforms in some internal rules to give them a bit more say in Assembly operations.
Three months into his new legislative job, Assemblyman Jack Quinn III, R-Hamburg, found himself having to pick sides in an ugly internecine battle. "Charlie has been good to me," Quinn said, choosing Nesbitt.