New York State Assemblyman Saul Weprin, D-Queens, and chairman of the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee, yesterday was elected to replace Mel Miller as Speaker.
Assemblyman Miller was immediately stripped of his seat and powers Friday evening after being convicted on federal fraud charges.
The vote only made official what had been decided on Saturday when Assemblyman Weprin, 64, took an informal poll of the 94 Democrats in the Assembly.
The Democrats, who make up the majority in the 150-member Assembly, indicated that Assemblyman Weprin, and not his rival Acting Speaker James R. Tallon Jr., D-Binghamton, would ascend the political ladder to become the second most powerful Democrat in the state, after Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.
Mr. Weprin will remain as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee until Jan. 8, when he will name his successor.
Immediately after the vote yesterday, Assemblyman Weprin called Assembly Democrats to conference to discuss the state's budget crisis and a plan to deal with it. The calmness and smoothness of the power transition belied the hectic and befuddled atmosphere that now permeates Albany.
Lawmakers from the state Senate and Assembly have been bogged down in disagreement over how to close an $875 million budget gap projected for fiscal 1992, which ends March 31, and a $3.6 billion gap forecasted for fiscal 1993.
Meanwhile, Gov. Cuomo, mulling a presidential run in 1992, continues to fret about the state's fiscal health and to chide lawmakers to come up with a plan to deal with the budget gaps.
While the gulf between the Assembly, Gov. Cuomo, and the Senate is wide, the appointment of Assemblyman Weprin could at least begin the process of bridging it.
One lawmaker said Assemblyman Weprin has a "long relationship" with Senate Majority leader Ralph J. Marino, R-Muttontown. "Ralph will be very comfortable with Saul because Saul won't try to overwhelm him."
On Saturday, Sen. Marino presented his $4.5 billion plan to deal with the budget gaps over a 15-month period. Mr. Marino's plan includes a call for about $1.8 billion in savings in the state's Medicaid and welfare programs, no new taxes, and a keeping the state's personal income and corporate surcharge tax at their current levels to achieve a $1.25 billion savings.
Yesterday, Sen. Marino said that Senate members would convene today. If there is no progress made on budget negotiations with Gov. Cuomo and the Assembly, then the 35 Republicans in the 61-member Senate would pass their own budget bills.
Lawmakers in the Assembly have cobbled together their own multiyear gap-closing plan, but it calls for only $1.1 billion of Medicaid savings.
The loss of Assemblyman Miller could have driven both Gov. Cuomo's presidential aspirations and the state budget crisis into further disarray.
But the swift appointment of Assemblyman Weprin lends some stability to the budget talks and even Gov. Cuomo's chances for jumping into the presidential race, said observers in Albany.
Assemblyman Weprin was first elected to the Assembly in a special election in 1971 and was appointed to Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee by Assemblyman Miller in 1987. He is also a member of the state's Public Authorities Control Board, which reviews state authority bond sales, and he is familiar with the workings of municipal finance.