ALBANY — The great kumquat debate began around 1 a.m. on Wednesday, when State Senator George S. Latimer, a Westchester County Democrat, likened a voluminous budget bill to a Christmas gift basket that contained some items that were desirable, but others that were not.
“You like the shortbread cookies, but you don’t like the kumquats,” Mr. Latimer said. “But you have to either take the whole basket or send it back to your aunt and say, ‘Sorry, I didn’t really like this basket.’”
The kumquat in the budget basket, for Senator Latimer, was a proposal to raise the minimum wage, but to do it gradually and not tie it to inflation.
That was just the beginning. In one of the stranger rhetorical runs recently in Albany, more than a half-dozen senators turned to kumquats in their wee-hours musings about various aspects of the state’s $141 billion spending plan, which they ultimately approved around 4:15 a.m. (The Assembly plans to vote Thursday on the budget, which is for the fiscal year that begins on Monday.)
Some lawmakers acknowledged they were not prepared for the fruity furor.
Senator Michael N. Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, said he did not quite know what a kumquat was before the subject arose. “I looked it up; apparently it’s a citrus fruit,” he explained. “I don’t know why there’s so much hostility against it, but nonetheless, there is.”
But even kumquat know-nothings seized on citrus, at least for debating purposes.
“If we’re going to go with the assumption that a kumquat is a bad thing, this is one big kumquat in this revenue bill that we’re dealing with,” Mr. Gianaris said.
The fruit proved irresistible for senators of all persuasions. Senator Kathleen A. Marchione, a Republican from Saratoga County and an outspoken advocate of gun rights, said the state’s new gun law was her kumquat.
And Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, noting that he did not like kumquats, described one budget bill as “a bag full of kumquats.” He said the deal to raise the minimum wage was “the biggest kumquat of all”; two hours later, he compared it to “slipping on a kumquat and falling in a hole, or something.”
Mr. Latimer later seemed to feel some remorse for besmirching an innocent fruit (the kumquat is not mentioned in the state budget, nor in any legislation introduced this year). Speaking shortly before the Senate adjourned, he pulled his cellphone out of his breast pocket and joked that he had received a text message from the New York State Association of Kumquat Growers.
“Apparently they’re not coming to my next fund-raiser,” Mr. Latimer said, drawing laughter from his weary colleagues and their aides. “My apologies to anybody else who I’ve dragged into the Kumquat-gate of tonight.”
The discussion of kumquats added some levity to an overnight session that was otherwise filled with grumbling among Democrats about why they were there in the first place, since the budget was not due for several days. One alluded wistfully to a piece of legislation he sponsored, called the Vampire Voting Act, that would forbid such overnight sessions. The senator, Terry W. Gipson, a Hudson Valley Democrat, acknowledged the kumquat chatter but said he preferred to discuss vampires.