Paterson's Racing Board Pick Draws GOP's Ire

Republicans question legality of Charles Diamond's confirmation to New York agency.

A new member of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the regulatory agency with vast power over the racing industry, has been approved by the state Senate – but not without the usual dose of partisan wrangling at the state Capitol.

Charles Diamond, who worked for two decades as a top aide to a former U.S. House member from the Albany area, was tapped for the $101,600-a-year post, but Republicans questioned the legality of the confirmation vote.

Diamond, who has been serving as a director at the Cable Telecommunications Association of New York and whose resume indicated no background in racing matters, replaces John Simoni as one of the agency’s board members.

Senate Democrats pushed through Gov. David Paterson's appointee Feb. 23 despite cries from the Republicans that the vote was not legal. The Democrats have controlled the Senate the past year by a 32-30 margin, but it recently expelled one of their members following a domestic violence conviction, leaving them with a 31-30 split. Republicans contend it takes 32 votes to approve any measures in the chamber, including confirmations.

“This dangerous precedent calls into question or invites litigation regarding any decision made by these individuals because the confirmation was illegal,’’ Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos said of the confirmation of Diamond and another individual to a separate agency.

That could pose a problem, Republicans say, because the racing board’s members are involved in an array of matters, including approving new industry rules, racetrack capital improvements and race dates, new forms of wagering, and disciplinary action involving jockeys, trainers and others. The board, headed by John Sabini, also is involved in overseeing the state’s Indian casinos.

Austin Shafran, a Senate Democratic spokesman, said the 32-vote rule applies only to legislation and resolutions, and not confirmations of gubernatorial appointees. He said confirmations can be made if a majority of members present in the chamber vote for the nominee.