Remember a week ago, when Bronx Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. sent out a controversial memo calling for the Senate Democratic minority to take back the four members of the Independent Democratic Conference? The one that seemed to call for the ouster of Senate Minority Leader John Sampson in favor of IDC leader Sen. Jeff Klein?
It turns out the memo was prompted by a heated exchange with Sampson during a closed-door, members-only conference, according to three people present who said Diaz was upset Sampson wouldn’t push for member items in this year’s budget.
Diaz told Sampson he hoped to see member items restored this year and Sampson refused, the sources said. They said Sampson told Diaz that member items are no longer renewed since Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office – and that even if they were, the Senate Democrats were in the minority, and couldn’t get much anyway.
Following the conference, Diaz blasted out his now-infamous press release.
I called Diaz to ask about this, and he initially refused to talk.
“Whatever happens in conference, that’s for members only,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you what happened in a members-only conference.”
But he immediately called me back, to vent – and confirmed at the end of a lengthy diatribe that the press release was indeed prompted by anger at Sampson, whose ouster Diaz again called for.
“You want to know, what is my problem with Sampson and the leadership?” he began.
“My problem with Senator Sampson and with the leadership is bad values. First, last year when we were voting for the budget, I asked Sampson and leadership not to vote for that budget, because that budget will hurt our community. It will cut education, will not fix the housing problems and will take away, and will not increase the taxes on the rich. I asked him, if all the black and Hispanic members hold our votes the governor will be embarrassed and will do something about it. Sampson told me they don’t want to embarrass the governor.
“The second thing was when gay marriage came to the floor, the rules of the Senate is that when you lay aside the bill, you have time to discuss it and talk about it. When I laid aside the bill, the governor decided not to let anyone talk and my rights were violated. My leader, John Sampson, kept quiet while my rights as a senator were being violated. So I told Sampson, I told him that if I’m going to have a leader I need a strong leader. I wasn’t asking them to vote with me, but my rights, their leader, whoever it is, is supposed to protect his members, right?
“My rights are being violated. That’s why I also resigned from the black and Hispanic caucus.
“That is why everyone’s talking about member items. They are very important in our communities. In white areas they don’t need member items. But in our communities, those community groups, those senior citizen centers – do you know how many computer labs I’ve put in senior centers?
“I used to help 122 community groups. Not anymore. One hundred twenty-two, and I could fax to you the names and the addresses. They are important in our community. I wish that our leaders could listen to the criticism, because they are rich people. So, yes I did. I said to him member items are essential in our community.
“So for senior centers, for community groups, for neighborhood groups, for parent association groups. How do they live? They need our help and we cannot help them. Member items is part of the conversation. That’s not my anger. That could be part of my anger, but my anger is that my rights as a senator were violated. They know this, I’ve been telling them.
“They know that is my concern, they know that is my problem with them. They know that is why I resigned from the black and Hispanic caucus. Yes! I’m not gonna deny it. I need member items in my community. We need new leadership – whoever is not afraid of the governor, and whoever is not afraid of the press. I don’t ask for them to vote for me, but I need a leader to protect my rights, even though he doesn’t agree with my point of view.”
A spokesman for Sampson declined to comment.
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