By IRENE JAY LIU, Capitol bureau
First published in print: Sunday, July 12, 2009


ALBANY -- Eleven of the state Senate's highest-paid staffers received raises of up to $32,000 when it appeared likely Democrats would lose control of the chamber during the five-week leadership fight.

The combined increases will cost taxpayers $200,000 annually.

Since the June 8 Senate coup, dozens of staff members from both sides of the aisle have received raises, but the elite group received raises ranging from $10,000 to $32,000 annually, state Comptroller's office records show.

The beneficiaries include top aides to Senate President Pro Tempore Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn.

Because many of the raises were backdated, staffers are paid the additional cash in a lump sum, said Jennifer Freeman, spokeswoman to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. As a result, staffers expected fat paychecks of thousands of dollars in backdated raises at the exact time that Sampson was accusing Senate Republicans of stalling legislation in an attempt to seize the spoils of majority leadership.

Early last week -- before the return of breakaway Democrat Pedro Espada Jr. ended the struggle for control of the chamber -- Sampson held a news conference where he charged Espada and Senate Republicans "care about what I call T-triple-P -- that is titles, power, pork and patronage -- more than the New York's economy."

Nevertheless, the past month has been kind to the bank accounts of some Democratic staffers.

One day after the coup, Senate Majority Deputy Secretaries Meredith Henderson and Patricia Rubens each received nearly $23,000 in raises. Both staffers received an additional raise on June 23, for a total of nearly $32,000 each, backdated to Jan. 1, 2009. Both staffers are paid $140,382.

Mortimer Lawrence, a top Smith aide and already one of the highest-paid staffers on the Senate payroll, was given a $16,000 raise on June 24 that was backdated to Jan. 2. His annual salary is now $177,231.

On June 26, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Indira Noel received a nearly $11,000 raise that bumped her salary to $118,000. Counsel for Latino and Immigrant Affairs Lourdes Ventura received a nearly $12,000 raise, increasing her annual pay to $131,000. And Curtis Taylor, who holds the title of special adviser to the majority leader, received a $13,500, taking his annual salary to $135,000.

Lawrence was Smith's chief of staff when the Democrats were in the minority; after the November elections, he became "special counsel to the majority leader." Taylor, who was the director of minority communications, became "special adviser to the majority leader." Lawrence and Taylor are members of the Queens-based Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of Greater New York, the church led by the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former congressman and Smith's political mentor.

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