Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Unwelcome Discredit

Speech By: Sen. Hiram Monserrate
Title: Unwelcome Discredit
Date: February 9, 2010
Location: Senate Chamber - New York State Capitol
Occasion: Debate on Senate Resolution condemning the conduct and calling for the expulsion of Senator Hiram Monserrate
In December 2008, shortly after his election to the post, Senator-elect Hiram Monserrate was involved in a domestic incident with girlfriend Karla Giraldo, which resulted in her treatment at a hospital for a severe cut to the face which required numerous sutures to repair.

Charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor, Monserrate chose a non-jury trial. He was subsequently convicted by the judge of a single misdemeanor count - assault in the third degree, by recklessly causing injury to Karla Giraldo by forcibly dragging her by her arm. Although a criminal conviction, a misdemeanor does not result in an officeholder automatically being removed, as in the case of a felony.

In the wake of the conviction, a special Senate committee was constituted to review the matter. Their final report recommended the Senate take one of two actions against their colleague - expulsion, or censure, with the removal of privileges.

Only the expulsion resolution was considered, and it was adopted by a vote of 53 - 8. He became the first New York legislator to be expelled by his colleagues since 1861. Before casting his vote against his own expulsion, Senator Monserrate spoke.

As reported by the Daily News’ Liz Benjamin, the speech lasted almost 16 minutes, which is extraordinarily long for a Chamber whose rules generally allow members only two minutes to explain their vote.

Video Posted: YouTube
Text Posted: Scribd (Free Membership required)
It may be nothing Senator Monserrate said last night would have changed many votes. However, I should note that a few Senators I spoke with before the vote, were aware an expulsion of this type deprives the people of that district of their chosen representative. It wasn’t a comfortable position for them, and a speech at the right time, and in the right place, might have lessened the penalty. This speech certainly wasn’t it.

There are two approaches that might work in a situation like this - to say “you have no right to deprive the people of my district of their chosen representative, since the law doesn’t explicitly call for it, and still call yourselves a democratic institution;” or “yes, I’ve made mistakes, we all do, but this penalty is not appropriate for what happened in this case.”

During his speech, he tries both approaches, and that is a mistake. It could be one or the other, but to mix the two puts the arguments at cross purposes.

In fact, that is a major problem with the speech - it has no single focus of argument. It rambles back and forth between being defiant, accusatory, apologetic, and to some degree, insulting.

I thought the first five paragraphs were effective in making a “depriving the people” case, but then he goes off track and begins attacking the very people who are voting on his future. This stuck out: “Is it any wonder we have earned the label of “Dysfunctional” that has bestowed upon us?

Attacking the institution itself is not a wise idea, especially when the people you are speaking to are acting to protect the integrity of that institution. It’s especially unwise when in the very first paragraph you admit to having engaged in “Behavior that is unbecoming of a state Senator.” Later on, he also admits to having “brought unwelcome discredit to this chamber.

If there was ever a challenge for the members of the Senate to prove they could function when it came to making a tough decision, that was it. And they proved themselves. But not until after his  speech made it a bit easier for them.

This speech might have been of some benefit if he had given it to the special Senate committee. Some of the points he raises are indeed valid. But, as he points out in his speech, the committee never heard “from the only two people involved in the incident of Dec. 18, 2008.” What he forgot to mention is that he was invited to appear before them and refused the chance.

One thing that makes any speech better is giving it in the right place and time.

Length (words): 1144

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom


  1. Great on the Daily News mention!

    Monserrate's speech could not have been any different. The man ego wouldn't allow it. Not criticizing; observational comments. The public is also very aware of the recent rash of high-publicized women-beatings (Dominic Carter of NY1, singer Chris Brown, Scott Lee Brown (ILL, D).

    You're right, Tom. A sincere mea culpa and sticking to one message "don't punish my district for my faults" may have worked in his favor.

  2. Lina, thanks for your comments. You may well be right in suggesting that personality may have been the overriding factor in what was said here.

    Some speeches absolutely demand that one's personality be expressed. Others, that it be subordinated. This occasion demanded the latter approach.