Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/andrea-stewart-cousins 2017-12-11T15:27:25+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Amid Larger Moment, Will Albany Face Another Sexual Misconduct Reckoning? 2017-10-31T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-31T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7286:amid-larger-moment-will-albany-face-another-sexual-misconduct-reckoning Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/7030332993_98be0d5262_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Sheldon Silver Skelos Albany" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo, Sheldon Silver &amp; Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As allegations of sexual harassment and assault against disgraced movie producer and major Democratic political donor Harvey Weinstein piled up earlier this month, women around the world took to social media to share stories of abusive behavior using the hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MeToo?src=hash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#MeToo</a>.</p> <p>The light being shone on the predatory behavior of Weinstein and many others resonated at statehouses across the United States, from California to Rhode Island, where women in politics have been speaking out about sexual misconduct they experienced first-hand or witnessed, with victims including legislators, young staffers and interns, lobbyists, and others.</p> <p>In New York’s capital, the response has been more muted, in part because the Legislature is not currently in session, but also because Albany was recently forced to face its own mishandling of sexual misconduct scandals. As recently as 2014, the aftermath of a debacle around sexual harassment by Assemblymember Vito Lopez, which led to his forced resignation from the Assembly, produced a number of significant reforms to how harassment, misconduct, and discriminatory behavior are addressed in the state Assembly.</p> <p>Now, three years later and amid a national reckoning with issues related to sexual misconduct, women in state government who spoke to Gotham Gazette noted an&nbsp; improvement in the Albany culture since these reforms, but say that sexist attitudes and behavior continue to plague New York state government.</p> <p>While several female legislators were hesitant to speak on the record about their own experiences with sexual harassment, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa spoke frankly about her own experiences with sexism in the political sphere at a recent forum organized by Berkeley College in Manhattan. She described one incident, a decade ago, when on a conference call, it was announced that she would take the lead on a project. A man on the line, who is now a national leader in progressive politics, according to DeRosa, joked, “She can take the lead right up to my hotel room,” apparently unaware that DeRosa was on the line.</p> <p>“These instances have stuck with me, but I'm not kidding myself and neither should you — many women have and still do experience far worse every day, and it's not just actresses you're reading about in the news this week,” she said, according to <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/transcript-secretary-governor-melissa-derosa-delivers-keynote-address-women-media-courage-own" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a transcript</a> distributed by the governor’s office.</p> <p>Calling for “societal course correction,” DeRosa encouraged young women in all industries to speak out.</p> <p>The statement was a powerful one coming from DeRosa, who at 34 became the youngest person and first woman to be named Secretary to the Governor, the top aide to the state’s most powerful government official, when she was appointed to the post by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Days after DeRosa’s remarks, a former top official in Cuomo’s administration came forward with allegations that her former boss sexually harassed staffers, saying she was inspired by DeRosa’s remarks, <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/23/top-cuomo-official-claims-former-boss-sexually-harassed-employees/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The New York Post</a>.</p> <p>Patricia Gunning, who had recently resigned as the special prosecutor/inspector general of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, told The Post that she faced retaliatory violence for calling out her boss for his behavior.</p> <p>“My hope is that this conversation will be the beginning of a new era in [how] these issues are addressed by employers,” Gunning told The Post.</p> <p>On Monday, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/30/cuomo-ally-sam-hoyt-leaves-state-post-for-private-sector/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">it was revealed</a> that&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman and Cuomo ally who ran Buffalo area projects for the state's Empire State Development Corporation, had abruptly resigned to take a job in the private sector. By Tuesday afternoon, Hoyt, who was disciplined by the Assembly<span style="font-weight: 400;">&nbsp;in 2009 for an affair with 19-year-old intern, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/31/state-employee-says-hoyt-paid-her-50000-to-conceal-relationship/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was accused</a> by a former state employee of pressuring her into a romantic relationship. She told Buffalo News that she was paid $50,000 for her silence.</span> </span></p> <p><span>In <a href="https://twitter.com/NickReisman/status/925443753200021505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>,&nbsp;<span>Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever acknowledged that allegations of misconduct had emerged against Hoyt and that an investigation was underway.</span></span></p> <p>"All state employees must act with integrity and respect," the statement read. "When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately refered to the&nbsp; <span style="font-weight: 400;">Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER)&nbsp;</span>for an investigation."</p> <p>After GOER determined there were grounds for further review, the matter was refered to the Inspector General's Office, and later, the&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE), according to the statement. Hoyt maintains that the relationship was consentual, according to Buffalo News.</span></p> <p>But while to this point there has not been a new public outcry at the New York Legislature, female lawmakers say that the Weinstein scandal and its fallout have struck a chord and sparked private conversations about their early experiences in Albany and how they can best aid young female staff aides and legislators.</p> <p>One such conversation occurred at <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/comm/?id=85" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a retreat</a> for the Women’s Legislative Caucus in Saratoga two weeks ago, where women shared uncomfortable incidents they had experienced early in their careers and discussed how they could better unify when scandals occur, according to Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo area lawmaker who chairs the Women’s Caucus. One thing agreed upon, Peoples-Stokes said, was that the Assembly’s sexual harassment enforcement could be enhanced by a mentorship program for incoming members and their aides.</p> <p>“We wanted to see if there is anything we can do in addition to ensure that we never need to have these experiences again,” said Peoples-Stokes. “It is something that we decided we are going to do as women of the Legislature, and you know, when women decide to do something, we get it done.”</p> <p>While the Assembly reforms appear to have improved the culture in the 150-seat chamber, Albany’s sexual harassment problem has not disappeared. The Senate and the Assembly <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">have spent</a> hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years on outside counsel to investigate sexual harassment complaints. The Assembly’s ethics committee -- which exists solely to enforce policy on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation -- <a href="https://twitter.com/RachelSilby/status/917812909106978816" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convened a meeting</a> in executive session on October 12 and is expected to meet again on November 2. The matter at hand is not clear.<br /> <br />Currently reported to be under investigation by JCOPE and the Erie County District Attorney’s office is Senator Marc Panepinto, a Democrat from Buffalo, who announced he would not seek reelection last year <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/03/17/state-senator-faces-ethics-probe-amid-lurid-sexual-harassment-allegations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amid rumors</a> of sexual harassment. Also last year, the Senate paid out $121,000 for two contracts with Kraus &amp; Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”</p> <p>Assembly members who spoke with Gotham Gazette acknowledged the body’s embarrassing history of dismissing sexual misconduct claims internally, which has led to a slew of unflattering headlines in 2012 and 2013, but noted that <span style="font-weight: 400;">an influx of female legislators to the Assembly in recent years has also helped to reshape the culture</span>. At the Senate, such scandals and its culture of protecting those in power has not drawn the same scrutiny.</p> <p>Last week, New York’s chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) made an effort to further jumpstart the conversation, calling on women and men who currently or previously work(ed) in government in Albany and throughout the state to speak out about their personal experiences with sexual harassment or assault while on the job, citing the Legislature’s history of quashing sexual harassment complaints.<br /> <br />“Government sets the standard and the policies and the laws that all other industries are asked to uphold,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women - New York, said in a statement. “Given that Albany is a place where lawmakers have abused their power and sexual harassment has gone unchecked in the past, we felt it was important to give women in politics a platform to speak up.”</p> <p>The women’s advocacy organization has <a href="http://nownys.org/whistleblower-hotline-for-sexual-harassment-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> the creation of a new, dedicated hotline for individuals in government to report their experiences (people can call 518-362-7857 or submit a story online at <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/nownys.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nownys.org</a>).</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ossorio said the goal is to build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement. The hotline will provide independent counsel and resources to victims while also assessing how effective recent policies have been, she said.</p> <p>“We immediately thought about the culture that has existed in Albany and we wanted to be able to empower women who work in politics, particularly young women and interns who head to their internships idealistic and wanting to be part of American government and are disillusioned by it,” she said. “We really want to know to what degree the environment of sexual harassment has been uprooted.”</p> <p>The personal stories tumbling out of statehouses around the nation are eerily familiar to anyone who has closely watched New York state government in recent years. In California, women leaders in government have formed a campaign called “We Said Enough,” sharing stories about how they have endured groping, inappropriate comments about their bodies and abilities, and insults and jokes that diminish them professionally. In some cases, “men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like,” wrote the group <a href="https://www.wesaidenough.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on a website</a> created for women to submit their stories.</p> <p>An open letter circulated by members of the Illinois Legislature drew a direct comparison between the Weinstein scandal and the coercive situations in which women in government find themselves and had drawn 130 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, <a href="https://t.co/zZUEBcBYR7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the AP reported</a>.</p> <p>"Every industry has its own version of the casting couch," reads the letter. "Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail. Misogyny is alive and well in this industry."</p> <p>Albany, which has historically been referred to as the New York’s own “sin city,” is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no stranger to such scandals</a>. Repeatedly, a series of particularly egregious complaints of sexual harassment or rape has led the Legislature to a watershed moment of sorts, producing much-needed reform in how accusers are treated and how their complaints are handled.</p> <p>A major turning point for the Assembly occurred <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in 2004</a>, when, roiling from a series of rape accusations against Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell IV and Michael Boxley, chief counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, its leadership decided to bar members of the Legislature from fraternizing with interns.</p> <p>In the state Senate, a somewhat similar soul-searching happened, but at the time many of its members were strongly opposed to the idea of an intern-fraternization ban.</p> <p>In comparison to the 150-seat Assembly, sex scandals in the 63-seat Senate have unfolded more discreetly -- hinted at through <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">money spent on lawyers</a> or a senator or a top aide <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/09/flanagan-hires/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">leaving the job</a> abruptly amid rumors -- and as a result the body’s leadership has not been forced to publicly reckon with its record in the same way, according to Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who was instrumental in compelling the Senate to implement a mandatory sexual harassment training program.</p> <p>A decade ago, Krueger said she was privy to two incidents involving interns who were molested by older male senators. One incident occurred in a packed elevator and Krueger famously threatened to kick the senator if he touched an intern again. The other time she learned of a sexual assault claim when she found a young staffer crying outside a senator’s office at the Capitol.</p> <p>After the second incident, Krueger, who is known for her bluntness on the topic, said she urged then-Senate Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican from the Capital Region, to create mandatory sexual harassment training for all senators. When she threatened to hold a press conference naming and shaming the offending senators, Bruno, who later stepped down from the leadership role amid his own public corruption scandal, responded he would hold a competing press conference naming Democratic senators.</p> <p>The way Krueger tells it, she said, “I didn't tell you [what] party this senator is in. I don't give a damn what party they are. We can do a joint press conference, and we all can name names. I don't give a [expletive].” To which Bruno responded, “OK, OK, we'll do mandatory sexual harassment training,” Krueger <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/womenatwork/article/Liz-Krueger-Q-A-on-women-in-politics-9186948.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told The Albany Times Union</a>.</p> <p>The training became mandatory for senators and staff members and the regulations were clearly stated in a written document.</p> <p>It was not the last time Kreuger took her colleagues in the Legislature <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to task</a> over crimes against women. In June 2003, when Boxley was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/12/nyregion/aide-to-silver-is-arrested-in-rape-case.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">led out of the Capitol in handcuffs</a>, having been accused of rape for the second time, Krueger said she had a very public confrontation with Assemblymember Lopez, who a decade later would be toppled by his own slew of sexual harassment scandals. They were scheduled, coincidentally, to hold a joint press conference in front of the Legislative Correspondents Association office. According to Krueger, the Assembly member fumed, “How dare they come over here and arrest our counsel in our house?”</p> <p>“I said ‘excuse me, he was tried with rape,’ pause, ‘for the second time,’ pause,” Krueger recalled to Gotham Gazette, “‘It seems to me that if you have anything to say publicly about this, it's let justice be fair and swift. Otherwise, I think you should keep your mouth shut.'”</p> <p>Lopez’s Assembly colleagues later told her that she had made an enemy for life. “I said, ‘Good. Some enemies are worth having,’” said Krueger of the former Brooklyn Democratic boss, who lost a City Council race in 2013 and died in November 2015.</p> <p>Still, Krueger acknowledges that the current sexual harassment policy in the Senate does not encourage women to come forward. “I’d like to believe the written policies the Senate came up with and mandatory training might have helped in some small way,” she told Gotham Gazette last week.</p> <p>In 2014, following <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of sexual misconduct scandals</a> involving Lopez, Assemblymember Micah Kellner, and Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak, the Assembly officially changed its policy on sexual harassment, which had last been updated in 2009. In the past, sexual harassment complainants would typically report the incidents to the speaker’s office or the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), but it was up to the discretion of the speaker’s counsel whether to investigate the complaints.</p> <p>When it was revealed that Speaker Silver did not follow protocol and report misconduct allegations by two staff members against Assemblymember Lopez to the ethics body, instead cutting a secret $103,000 settlement with the women, Silver publically apologized for the lapse and announced that the Assembly would review its practices.</p> <p>To help restructure the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, the Assembly’s ethics committee enlisted CUNY Law School Professor <a href="http://www.law.cuny.edu/faculty/directory/rossein.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Merrick Rossein</a>, an attorney, law professor, and expert in discrimination litigation. Through interviews with women in the Assembly, Rossein made a series of recommendations to the bipartisan legislative task force that was convened to address deficiencies in the Assembly’s policy.</p> <p>“There are a number of things in this policy that I’m very proud of that I’d like to see in every sexual harassment policy, including the private sector,” said Rossein,&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">who has since been retained by the Assembly as an outside counsel to investigate complaints against members,</span> in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Recommendations made by Rossein include the appointment of an outside investigator to look into complaints; a guarantee of confidentiality for accusers; severe consequences for an employer that retaliates against a complainant; and more. Most importantly, a lawmaker accused of harassment is barred from talking to the accuser until a designated time. Additionally, lawmakers were made mandatory reporters, required to inform the ethics committee about sexual misconduct if they see it or hear about it -- a component women say <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-sexual-harassment-state-legislatures.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has had a dramatic impact on the culture in Albany</a>. A hotline has been set up for people to submit tips.</p> <p>The Assembly policy outlines two types of harassment, hostile work environment harassment — which is directed at somebody based on their sex, would be considered offensive by a reasonable person, and is severe or pervasive enough to interfere with one’s work environment — and quid-pro-quo harassment, the type described by victims of Weinstein, in which professional opportunities are offered in exchange for sexual favors.</p> <p>In response to the barrage of corruption and sexual harassment scandals over the last decade, the Legislature has also dramatically revamped the way it approaches its ethics and sexual harassment training, according to Assemblymember Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Nassau County and former chair of the Assembly’s ethics committee. Not only are class sizes smaller, according to Lavine, but they have gone from obligatory and dry, to dynamic, thought-provoking, and interactive.</p> <p>“We have gone from the days when it was almost an obligation to provide -- or what seemed to be at the time -- ethics training that was done in large groups of people,” said Lavine in a January interview with Gotham Gazette. “And while it was content-specific and good, it was not nearly so effective as the modern approach, which is to work with smaller groups of individuals in an interactive environment.”</p> <p>Still, there is undoubtedly more work to be done to rectify inequities for women and in Albany. It likely doesn’t help that those at the top of Albany’s power chain are all men. Many have pushed for Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County legislator who has led Senate Democrats since 2012 and is the first woman or person of color to lead a legislative conference, to be included at the negotiating table during budget and other high-level talks. Currently, the state’s $150 billion-plus budget is largely hammered out by four men: Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which forms a ruling coalition with the Republican conference. Democrats hope that the 2018 state-level elections and an agreement with the IDC will lead to Stewart-Cousins becoming the leader of a new Senate majority.</p> <p>Having more women in the Legislature would go a long way towards creating a safer space for female employees at all levels of government, according to Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>“The most disturbing thing is that almost every woman has a story regarding harassment or worse,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is true in every walk of life and unfortunately true in government. Only by confronting sexism and gender bias head-on will we be able to truly create a culture which respects everyone equally. We need to support women and pro-women candidates for office and energize pro-women New Yorkers to get out and vote.”</p> <p>An increase in the number of women in Albany has helped reshape the culture from an old boys' club, in which women were largely relegated to secretarial positions, to a more egalitarian environment, where women are not only elected to office, but have risen to acquire key chair positions in both houses and led the passage of women-friendly legislation.</p> <p>Assemblymember Nily Rozic, who became the youngest woman in the state Legislature and the first woman ever to represent Queens’ 25th District when she was elected in 2012, said she has watched the culture transform since she began her tenure in Albany as an aide to Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.</p> <p>“It’s certainly gotten better since I was a legislative staffer, but we have a long way to go. The underlying change that’s happening is that more women are getting elected to the Legislature and that really positively affects our work place,” said Rozic.</p> <p>Aside from the most serious cases of sexual assault and rape, it’s often sexual comments and diminishing jokes -- such as the one described by DeRosa -- or an extra-long hug that makes the state Legislature a treacherous place for young women.</p> <p>Alexis Grenell, a political strategist and commentator on feminist issues, said the comment described by DeRosa is a quintessential example of how women are verbally undermined in the workplace.</p> <p>“The harassment that Melissa described is fundamentally dehumanizing,” said Grenell. “There is nothing benign about it. It’s meant to take away her worth as a thinking, contributing person in a professional environment and renders her the sum total of her physicality and sex appeal. That is dehumanizing. It’s not why she’s on the call.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, recalled her first years as a legislative staffer in Washington, D.C. and as chief of staff to Assemblymember Ron Kim, of Queens. She said that when she first arrived in Albany, Kim warned her not to get into elevators with “the wrong people.” Later, she learned that she had been named on a “hot or not” list that had been circulating among male staffers at the Legislature.</p> <p>“People would stop me in the hallway and say ‘you are just so exotic,’ but you know I’m not going to report them for it,” said Niou, who was elected to Silver’s old Assembly seat in 2016. “It’s just an ignorant and not very thoughtful comment.”</p> <p>These types of incidents collectively create a hostile environment that women internalize and come to see as normal, she said.</p> <p>“Over time, I’ve built this protective shell, like ‘oh these things are just going to bounce right off of me,’ but these things happen every day,” said Niou. “Somebody insists a kiss on the cheek -- like forces it -- but everyone kisses on the cheek, all over Albany people do the kiss-kiss thing.”</p> <p>The cheek kiss, which is often reserved for women in political settings, falls into a bit of a grey area, but many women in government have observed the greeting often provides an opportunity for hands to roam. The Assembly’s newest sexual harassment policy warns that touching -- including brushing against the body, squeezing, hugging, massaging or patting -- may fall under the category of sexual harassment, but that has not ended the practice.</p> <p>Grenell, who frequently holds press conferences at the Capitol, said to bypass the double kiss, she initiates a handshake by extending her arm as far away from her body as possible.</p> <p>A similar strategy is deployed by one Pennsylvania lawmaker, who at a recent women-led panel in the state, explained how she avoids the cheek kiss -- by placing one hand on her colleague’s shoulder, and the other outstretched for a handshake, according to <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/weinstein-sexual-harassment-harrisburg-capitol-lawmakers-sexual-favors-20171027.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an account</a> by a journalist covering the Harrisburg Capitol in the Philadelphia Inquirer.</p> <p>Albany veterans say they have grown accustomed to awkward and demeaning daily experiences.</p> <p>"I've been saying for the last 15 years: Every week, I drive three hours north and 30 years back in history in regards to how we treat women," said Senator Krueger, of Manhattan.</p> <p>With women across all industries, including government, empowered by the Weinstein blowup and its ripples to speak out about their experiences, Krueger said she would not be surprised if it led to another watershed moment in Albany.</p> <p>“I would suspect in the New York State Legislature, like so many other places -- where you have men in powerful positions and young women who might not have a lot of worldly experience, who think these are very important men,” she said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if more stories come out.”</p> <p><em>Update: The story has been updated with allegations about former EDC official Sam Hoyt that emerged Tuesday afternoon.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/7030332993_98be0d5262_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Sheldon Silver Skelos Albany" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo, Sheldon Silver &amp; Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As allegations of sexual harassment and assault against disgraced movie producer and major Democratic political donor Harvey Weinstein piled up earlier this month, women around the world took to social media to share stories of abusive behavior using the hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MeToo?src=hash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#MeToo</a>.</p> <p>The light being shone on the predatory behavior of Weinstein and many others resonated at statehouses across the United States, from California to Rhode Island, where women in politics have been speaking out about sexual misconduct they experienced first-hand or witnessed, with victims including legislators, young staffers and interns, lobbyists, and others.</p> <p>In New York’s capital, the response has been more muted, in part because the Legislature is not currently in session, but also because Albany was recently forced to face its own mishandling of sexual misconduct scandals. As recently as 2014, the aftermath of a debacle around sexual harassment by Assemblymember Vito Lopez, which led to his forced resignation from the Assembly, produced a number of significant reforms to how harassment, misconduct, and discriminatory behavior are addressed in the state Assembly.</p> <p>Now, three years later and amid a national reckoning with issues related to sexual misconduct, women in state government who spoke to Gotham Gazette noted an&nbsp; improvement in the Albany culture since these reforms, but say that sexist attitudes and behavior continue to plague New York state government.</p> <p>While several female legislators were hesitant to speak on the record about their own experiences with sexual harassment, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa spoke frankly about her own experiences with sexism in the political sphere at a recent forum organized by Berkeley College in Manhattan. She described one incident, a decade ago, when on a conference call, it was announced that she would take the lead on a project. A man on the line, who is now a national leader in progressive politics, according to DeRosa, joked, “She can take the lead right up to my hotel room,” apparently unaware that DeRosa was on the line.</p> <p>“These instances have stuck with me, but I'm not kidding myself and neither should you — many women have and still do experience far worse every day, and it's not just actresses you're reading about in the news this week,” she said, according to <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/transcript-secretary-governor-melissa-derosa-delivers-keynote-address-women-media-courage-own" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a transcript</a> distributed by the governor’s office.</p> <p>Calling for “societal course correction,” DeRosa encouraged young women in all industries to speak out.</p> <p>The statement was a powerful one coming from DeRosa, who at 34 became the youngest person and first woman to be named Secretary to the Governor, the top aide to the state’s most powerful government official, when she was appointed to the post by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Days after DeRosa’s remarks, a former top official in Cuomo’s administration came forward with allegations that her former boss sexually harassed staffers, saying she was inspired by DeRosa’s remarks, <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/23/top-cuomo-official-claims-former-boss-sexually-harassed-employees/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The New York Post</a>.</p> <p>Patricia Gunning, who had recently resigned as the special prosecutor/inspector general of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, told The Post that she faced retaliatory violence for calling out her boss for his behavior.</p> <p>“My hope is that this conversation will be the beginning of a new era in [how] these issues are addressed by employers,” Gunning told The Post.</p> <p>On Monday, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/30/cuomo-ally-sam-hoyt-leaves-state-post-for-private-sector/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">it was revealed</a> that&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman and Cuomo ally who ran Buffalo area projects for the state's Empire State Development Corporation, had abruptly resigned to take a job in the private sector. By Tuesday afternoon, Hoyt, who was disciplined by the Assembly<span style="font-weight: 400;">&nbsp;in 2009 for an affair with 19-year-old intern, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/31/state-employee-says-hoyt-paid-her-50000-to-conceal-relationship/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was accused</a> by a former state employee of pressuring her into a romantic relationship. She told Buffalo News that she was paid $50,000 for her silence.</span> </span></p> <p><span>In <a href="https://twitter.com/NickReisman/status/925443753200021505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>,&nbsp;<span>Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever acknowledged that allegations of misconduct had emerged against Hoyt and that an investigation was underway.</span></span></p> <p>"All state employees must act with integrity and respect," the statement read. "When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately refered to the&nbsp; <span style="font-weight: 400;">Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER)&nbsp;</span>for an investigation."</p> <p>After GOER determined there were grounds for further review, the matter was refered to the Inspector General's Office, and later, the&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE), according to the statement. Hoyt maintains that the relationship was consentual, according to Buffalo News.</span></p> <p>But while to this point there has not been a new public outcry at the New York Legislature, female lawmakers say that the Weinstein scandal and its fallout have struck a chord and sparked private conversations about their early experiences in Albany and how they can best aid young female staff aides and legislators.</p> <p>One such conversation occurred at <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/comm/?id=85" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a retreat</a> for the Women’s Legislative Caucus in Saratoga two weeks ago, where women shared uncomfortable incidents they had experienced early in their careers and discussed how they could better unify when scandals occur, according to Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo area lawmaker who chairs the Women’s Caucus. One thing agreed upon, Peoples-Stokes said, was that the Assembly’s sexual harassment enforcement could be enhanced by a mentorship program for incoming members and their aides.</p> <p>“We wanted to see if there is anything we can do in addition to ensure that we never need to have these experiences again,” said Peoples-Stokes. “It is something that we decided we are going to do as women of the Legislature, and you know, when women decide to do something, we get it done.”</p> <p>While the Assembly reforms appear to have improved the culture in the 150-seat chamber, Albany’s sexual harassment problem has not disappeared. The Senate and the Assembly <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">have spent</a> hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years on outside counsel to investigate sexual harassment complaints. The Assembly’s ethics committee -- which exists solely to enforce policy on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation -- <a href="https://twitter.com/RachelSilby/status/917812909106978816" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convened a meeting</a> in executive session on October 12 and is expected to meet again on November 2. The matter at hand is not clear.<br /> <br />Currently reported to be under investigation by JCOPE and the Erie County District Attorney’s office is Senator Marc Panepinto, a Democrat from Buffalo, who announced he would not seek reelection last year <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/03/17/state-senator-faces-ethics-probe-amid-lurid-sexual-harassment-allegations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amid rumors</a> of sexual harassment. Also last year, the Senate paid out $121,000 for two contracts with Kraus &amp; Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”</p> <p>Assembly members who spoke with Gotham Gazette acknowledged the body’s embarrassing history of dismissing sexual misconduct claims internally, which has led to a slew of unflattering headlines in 2012 and 2013, but noted that <span style="font-weight: 400;">an influx of female legislators to the Assembly in recent years has also helped to reshape the culture</span>. At the Senate, such scandals and its culture of protecting those in power has not drawn the same scrutiny.</p> <p>Last week, New York’s chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) made an effort to further jumpstart the conversation, calling on women and men who currently or previously work(ed) in government in Albany and throughout the state to speak out about their personal experiences with sexual harassment or assault while on the job, citing the Legislature’s history of quashing sexual harassment complaints.<br /> <br />“Government sets the standard and the policies and the laws that all other industries are asked to uphold,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women - New York, said in a statement. “Given that Albany is a place where lawmakers have abused their power and sexual harassment has gone unchecked in the past, we felt it was important to give women in politics a platform to speak up.”</p> <p>The women’s advocacy organization has <a href="http://nownys.org/whistleblower-hotline-for-sexual-harassment-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> the creation of a new, dedicated hotline for individuals in government to report their experiences (people can call 518-362-7857 or submit a story online at <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/nownys.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nownys.org</a>).</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ossorio said the goal is to build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement. The hotline will provide independent counsel and resources to victims while also assessing how effective recent policies have been, she said.</p> <p>“We immediately thought about the culture that has existed in Albany and we wanted to be able to empower women who work in politics, particularly young women and interns who head to their internships idealistic and wanting to be part of American government and are disillusioned by it,” she said. “We really want to know to what degree the environment of sexual harassment has been uprooted.”</p> <p>The personal stories tumbling out of statehouses around the nation are eerily familiar to anyone who has closely watched New York state government in recent years. In California, women leaders in government have formed a campaign called “We Said Enough,” sharing stories about how they have endured groping, inappropriate comments about their bodies and abilities, and insults and jokes that diminish them professionally. In some cases, “men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like,” wrote the group <a href="https://www.wesaidenough.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on a website</a> created for women to submit their stories.</p> <p>An open letter circulated by members of the Illinois Legislature drew a direct comparison between the Weinstein scandal and the coercive situations in which women in government find themselves and had drawn 130 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, <a href="https://t.co/zZUEBcBYR7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the AP reported</a>.</p> <p>"Every industry has its own version of the casting couch," reads the letter. "Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail. Misogyny is alive and well in this industry."</p> <p>Albany, which has historically been referred to as the New York’s own “sin city,” is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no stranger to such scandals</a>. Repeatedly, a series of particularly egregious complaints of sexual harassment or rape has led the Legislature to a watershed moment of sorts, producing much-needed reform in how accusers are treated and how their complaints are handled.</p> <p>A major turning point for the Assembly occurred <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in 2004</a>, when, roiling from a series of rape accusations against Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell IV and Michael Boxley, chief counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, its leadership decided to bar members of the Legislature from fraternizing with interns.</p> <p>In the state Senate, a somewhat similar soul-searching happened, but at the time many of its members were strongly opposed to the idea of an intern-fraternization ban.</p> <p>In comparison to the 150-seat Assembly, sex scandals in the 63-seat Senate have unfolded more discreetly -- hinted at through <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">money spent on lawyers</a> or a senator or a top aide <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/09/flanagan-hires/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">leaving the job</a> abruptly amid rumors -- and as a result the body’s leadership has not been forced to publicly reckon with its record in the same way, according to Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who was instrumental in compelling the Senate to implement a mandatory sexual harassment training program.</p> <p>A decade ago, Krueger said she was privy to two incidents involving interns who were molested by older male senators. One incident occurred in a packed elevator and Krueger famously threatened to kick the senator if he touched an intern again. The other time she learned of a sexual assault claim when she found a young staffer crying outside a senator’s office at the Capitol.</p> <p>After the second incident, Krueger, who is known for her bluntness on the topic, said she urged then-Senate Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican from the Capital Region, to create mandatory sexual harassment training for all senators. When she threatened to hold a press conference naming and shaming the offending senators, Bruno, who later stepped down from the leadership role amid his own public corruption scandal, responded he would hold a competing press conference naming Democratic senators.</p> <p>The way Krueger tells it, she said, “I didn't tell you [what] party this senator is in. I don't give a damn what party they are. We can do a joint press conference, and we all can name names. I don't give a [expletive].” To which Bruno responded, “OK, OK, we'll do mandatory sexual harassment training,” Krueger <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/womenatwork/article/Liz-Krueger-Q-A-on-women-in-politics-9186948.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told The Albany Times Union</a>.</p> <p>The training became mandatory for senators and staff members and the regulations were clearly stated in a written document.</p> <p>It was not the last time Kreuger took her colleagues in the Legislature <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to task</a> over crimes against women. In June 2003, when Boxley was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/12/nyregion/aide-to-silver-is-arrested-in-rape-case.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">led out of the Capitol in handcuffs</a>, having been accused of rape for the second time, Krueger said she had a very public confrontation with Assemblymember Lopez, who a decade later would be toppled by his own slew of sexual harassment scandals. They were scheduled, coincidentally, to hold a joint press conference in front of the Legislative Correspondents Association office. According to Krueger, the Assembly member fumed, “How dare they come over here and arrest our counsel in our house?”</p> <p>“I said ‘excuse me, he was tried with rape,’ pause, ‘for the second time,’ pause,” Krueger recalled to Gotham Gazette, “‘It seems to me that if you have anything to say publicly about this, it's let justice be fair and swift. Otherwise, I think you should keep your mouth shut.'”</p> <p>Lopez’s Assembly colleagues later told her that she had made an enemy for life. “I said, ‘Good. Some enemies are worth having,’” said Krueger of the former Brooklyn Democratic boss, who lost a City Council race in 2013 and died in November 2015.</p> <p>Still, Krueger acknowledges that the current sexual harassment policy in the Senate does not encourage women to come forward. “I’d like to believe the written policies the Senate came up with and mandatory training might have helped in some small way,” she told Gotham Gazette last week.</p> <p>In 2014, following <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of sexual misconduct scandals</a> involving Lopez, Assemblymember Micah Kellner, and Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak, the Assembly officially changed its policy on sexual harassment, which had last been updated in 2009. In the past, sexual harassment complainants would typically report the incidents to the speaker’s office or the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), but it was up to the discretion of the speaker’s counsel whether to investigate the complaints.</p> <p>When it was revealed that Speaker Silver did not follow protocol and report misconduct allegations by two staff members against Assemblymember Lopez to the ethics body, instead cutting a secret $103,000 settlement with the women, Silver publically apologized for the lapse and announced that the Assembly would review its practices.</p> <p>To help restructure the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, the Assembly’s ethics committee enlisted CUNY Law School Professor <a href="http://www.law.cuny.edu/faculty/directory/rossein.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Merrick Rossein</a>, an attorney, law professor, and expert in discrimination litigation. Through interviews with women in the Assembly, Rossein made a series of recommendations to the bipartisan legislative task force that was convened to address deficiencies in the Assembly’s policy.</p> <p>“There are a number of things in this policy that I’m very proud of that I’d like to see in every sexual harassment policy, including the private sector,” said Rossein,&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">who has since been retained by the Assembly as an outside counsel to investigate complaints against members,</span> in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Recommendations made by Rossein include the appointment of an outside investigator to look into complaints; a guarantee of confidentiality for accusers; severe consequences for an employer that retaliates against a complainant; and more. Most importantly, a lawmaker accused of harassment is barred from talking to the accuser until a designated time. Additionally, lawmakers were made mandatory reporters, required to inform the ethics committee about sexual misconduct if they see it or hear about it -- a component women say <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-sexual-harassment-state-legislatures.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has had a dramatic impact on the culture in Albany</a>. A hotline has been set up for people to submit tips.</p> <p>The Assembly policy outlines two types of harassment, hostile work environment harassment — which is directed at somebody based on their sex, would be considered offensive by a reasonable person, and is severe or pervasive enough to interfere with one’s work environment — and quid-pro-quo harassment, the type described by victims of Weinstein, in which professional opportunities are offered in exchange for sexual favors.</p> <p>In response to the barrage of corruption and sexual harassment scandals over the last decade, the Legislature has also dramatically revamped the way it approaches its ethics and sexual harassment training, according to Assemblymember Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Nassau County and former chair of the Assembly’s ethics committee. Not only are class sizes smaller, according to Lavine, but they have gone from obligatory and dry, to dynamic, thought-provoking, and interactive.</p> <p>“We have gone from the days when it was almost an obligation to provide -- or what seemed to be at the time -- ethics training that was done in large groups of people,” said Lavine in a January interview with Gotham Gazette. “And while it was content-specific and good, it was not nearly so effective as the modern approach, which is to work with smaller groups of individuals in an interactive environment.”</p> <p>Still, there is undoubtedly more work to be done to rectify inequities for women and in Albany. It likely doesn’t help that those at the top of Albany’s power chain are all men. Many have pushed for Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County legislator who has led Senate Democrats since 2012 and is the first woman or person of color to lead a legislative conference, to be included at the negotiating table during budget and other high-level talks. Currently, the state’s $150 billion-plus budget is largely hammered out by four men: Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which forms a ruling coalition with the Republican conference. Democrats hope that the 2018 state-level elections and an agreement with the IDC will lead to Stewart-Cousins becoming the leader of a new Senate majority.</p> <p>Having more women in the Legislature would go a long way towards creating a safer space for female employees at all levels of government, according to Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>“The most disturbing thing is that almost every woman has a story regarding harassment or worse,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is true in every walk of life and unfortunately true in government. Only by confronting sexism and gender bias head-on will we be able to truly create a culture which respects everyone equally. We need to support women and pro-women candidates for office and energize pro-women New Yorkers to get out and vote.”</p> <p>An increase in the number of women in Albany has helped reshape the culture from an old boys' club, in which women were largely relegated to secretarial positions, to a more egalitarian environment, where women are not only elected to office, but have risen to acquire key chair positions in both houses and led the passage of women-friendly legislation.</p> <p>Assemblymember Nily Rozic, who became the youngest woman in the state Legislature and the first woman ever to represent Queens’ 25th District when she was elected in 2012, said she has watched the culture transform since she began her tenure in Albany as an aide to Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.</p> <p>“It’s certainly gotten better since I was a legislative staffer, but we have a long way to go. The underlying change that’s happening is that more women are getting elected to the Legislature and that really positively affects our work place,” said Rozic.</p> <p>Aside from the most serious cases of sexual assault and rape, it’s often sexual comments and diminishing jokes -- such as the one described by DeRosa -- or an extra-long hug that makes the state Legislature a treacherous place for young women.</p> <p>Alexis Grenell, a political strategist and commentator on feminist issues, said the comment described by DeRosa is a quintessential example of how women are verbally undermined in the workplace.</p> <p>“The harassment that Melissa described is fundamentally dehumanizing,” said Grenell. “There is nothing benign about it. It’s meant to take away her worth as a thinking, contributing person in a professional environment and renders her the sum total of her physicality and sex appeal. That is dehumanizing. It’s not why she’s on the call.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, recalled her first years as a legislative staffer in Washington, D.C. and as chief of staff to Assemblymember Ron Kim, of Queens. She said that when she first arrived in Albany, Kim warned her not to get into elevators with “the wrong people.” Later, she learned that she had been named on a “hot or not” list that had been circulating among male staffers at the Legislature.</p> <p>“People would stop me in the hallway and say ‘you are just so exotic,’ but you know I’m not going to report them for it,” said Niou, who was elected to Silver’s old Assembly seat in 2016. “It’s just an ignorant and not very thoughtful comment.”</p> <p>These types of incidents collectively create a hostile environment that women internalize and come to see as normal, she said.</p> <p>“Over time, I’ve built this protective shell, like ‘oh these things are just going to bounce right off of me,’ but these things happen every day,” said Niou. “Somebody insists a kiss on the cheek -- like forces it -- but everyone kisses on the cheek, all over Albany people do the kiss-kiss thing.”</p> <p>The cheek kiss, which is often reserved for women in political settings, falls into a bit of a grey area, but many women in government have observed the greeting often provides an opportunity for hands to roam. The Assembly’s newest sexual harassment policy warns that touching -- including brushing against the body, squeezing, hugging, massaging or patting -- may fall under the category of sexual harassment, but that has not ended the practice.</p> <p>Grenell, who frequently holds press conferences at the Capitol, said to bypass the double kiss, she initiates a handshake by extending her arm as far away from her body as possible.</p> <p>A similar strategy is deployed by one Pennsylvania lawmaker, who at a recent women-led panel in the state, explained how she avoids the cheek kiss -- by placing one hand on her colleague’s shoulder, and the other outstretched for a handshake, according to <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/weinstein-sexual-harassment-harrisburg-capitol-lawmakers-sexual-favors-20171027.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an account</a> by a journalist covering the Harrisburg Capitol in the Philadelphia Inquirer.</p> <p>Albany veterans say they have grown accustomed to awkward and demeaning daily experiences.</p> <p>"I've been saying for the last 15 years: Every week, I drive three hours north and 30 years back in history in regards to how we treat women," said Senator Krueger, of Manhattan.</p> <p>With women across all industries, including government, empowered by the Weinstein blowup and its ripples to speak out about their experiences, Krueger said she would not be surprised if it led to another watershed moment in Albany.</p> <p>“I would suspect in the New York State Legislature, like so many other places -- where you have men in powerful positions and young women who might not have a lot of worldly experience, who think these are very important men,” she said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if more stories come out.”</p> <p><em>Update: The story has been updated with allegations about former EDC official Sam Hoyt that emerged Tuesday afternoon.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Mayoral Control Extended in Special Session with Usual Albany Process 2017-06-29T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7042:mayoral-control-extended-in-special-session-with-usual-albany-process Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/35486744541_357b0411fe_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo special session" width="600" height="405" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo on Thursday (photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p>To prevent the impending lapse of mayoral control over New York City schools, the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a two-year extension Thursday as part of a larger omnibus bill, which included a pension enhancement for certain uniformed workers, special recognition for former Governor Mario Cuomo, and several benefits for upstate areas.</p> <p>A special session was called Wednesday by Gov. Cuomo specifically to address mayoral leadership over city schools, which was set to expire June 30, and a small number of other matters, but the ensuing discussion produced a more sprawling legislation package, according to Cuomo. The final deal included a three-year extension of local taxes, $55 million in Lake Ontario flood relief funding, and the renaming of the new Tappan Zee Bridge after the governor’s late father.</p> <p>According to Cuomo, who held a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Capitol to celebrate what was accomplished, he and legislative leaders arrived at a compromise centered on extending mayoral control ahead of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7037-how-the-mayoral-control-special-session-works" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his calling the special session</a>. Once legislators returned to the capital, the negotiations were opened up more broadly, and a larger tentative deal was reached at around 8:30 p.m Wednesday night. That agreement followed a day of meetings behind closed doors, during which rank-and-file lawmakers, journalists, and the larger public were largely left on the sidelines. The Assembly voted to pass the omnibus bill <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/06/28/state-lawmakers-settle-on-bill-renewing-mayoral-control-tax-extenders-113137?mc_cid=b88135fdf7&amp;mc_eid=7ede0c8078" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at around 1 a.m. on Thursday</a>, while the Senate passed the bill after some internal rankling at around 2 .p.m.</p> <p>The opaque nature of the discussions, as well as the expense of keeping lawmakers in Albany at a cost of more than $30,000 -- though not all lawmakers take per diems and estimates vary -- drew criticism from lawmakers across party lines, including Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, who along with her fellow Senate Democrats urged their colleagues on the GOP side to move the bill along Thursday. </p> <p>“Another day and another example of dysfunction in the Senate,” Stewart Cousins said at a press conference outside the Senate GOP conference room. “The GOP/IDC inability to finish this session is an embarrassment. We need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money and do our jobs. The Senate Democrats are ready to vote for this package of legislation immediately. Let's go to the floor.”</p> <p>Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who was adamant during the legislative session that the lifting of the charter school cap in New York City not be included in the final bill, commended the governor and his colleagues in the Legislature for passing a comprehensive bill that would prevent disruption in the management of city schools.</p> <p>“I am proud of the efforts of Assembly members on both sides of the aisle who worked extremely hard to craft a consensus on the many pressing issues our state faces,” said Heastie, who got his way on the charter school cap, in a statement. “Working with Governor Cuomo, our successes include a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools, giving our educational system stability and allowing our school children to thrive.</p> <p>During his press conference in the Capitol’s Red Room, Cuomo ceremoniously signed the mayoral control portion of the legislative package and said he had anticipated the special session would only address mayoral control and legislation enhancing pension benefits for certain city police officers and firefighters, known as the “three-quarters bill.” However, several Senate Republicans from Upstate saw the bill as too New York City-centric.</p> <p>“The agreement was to come back and do mayoral control and the three-quarters bill. When we came back, the Assembly was fine with it,” Cuomo told reporters. “My understanding is, in the conference, the Senate said ‘We also want to do the sales tax extenders. And by the way, it’s not just the sales tax extenders,’ they said, ‘We also want do something on Vernon Downs’...That is what we were trying to avoid. Once you start to expand the wish list, it gets much, much harder to get to an agreement.”</p> <p>Offering a reason for the delay in legislative voting, Cuomo also celebrated how much got done in the end.</p> <p>The final bill offers a tax bailout to Vernon Downs, an Upstate racetrack, in order to prevent its closure and retain 300 well-paying jobs in the region; provides for critical transportation needs in Westchester County; and includes passage of a proposed constitutional amendment to aid communities in the Adirondack Mountains with infrastructure projects. In addition to the renaming of the Tappan Zee, the Legislature voted to rename Riverbank State Park in Manhattan in honor of retiring Assemblymember Denny Farrell, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1974.</p> <p>Flanagan also touted the package, saying in a Thursday statement saying that the omnibus bill "resolves a number of outstanding state issues" after "Senate Republicans were able to put together a more comprehensive package that meets the needs of taxpayers, students, and families throughout our entire state." Flanagan also indicated that there were provisions related to protecting charter schools, something Mayor de Blasio stated would be announced in the coming days as administrative, not legislative, matters.</p> <p>There was no legislative action regarding the MTA, which Cuomo had declared was in a state of emergency on Thursday morning at an event in New York City. At that event Cuomo did pledge an additional $1 billion to the MTA in next year’s budget.</p> <p>As had become evident when the budget was passed in April and through the end of the legislative session last week, no government ethics or election reforms made it through Albany this year. Two other top priorities of Mayor de Blasio’s -- design-build authority and additional speed cameras for school zones -- were also left on the chopping block.</p> <p>Still, at his own news conference on Thursday afternoon, de Blasio said he was very pleased with the outcome, especially on mayoral control. The mayor expressed relief that with the first two-year extension of his term, he would not need an Albany vote next year to keep control of the school system. What the mayor does need, however, is the approval of voters this fall when he seeks reelection.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>with reporting by Ben Max</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/35486744541_357b0411fe_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo special session" width="600" height="405" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo on Thursday (photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p>To prevent the impending lapse of mayoral control over New York City schools, the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a two-year extension Thursday as part of a larger omnibus bill, which included a pension enhancement for certain uniformed workers, special recognition for former Governor Mario Cuomo, and several benefits for upstate areas.</p> <p>A special session was called Wednesday by Gov. Cuomo specifically to address mayoral leadership over city schools, which was set to expire June 30, and a small number of other matters, but the ensuing discussion produced a more sprawling legislation package, according to Cuomo. The final deal included a three-year extension of local taxes, $55 million in Lake Ontario flood relief funding, and the renaming of the new Tappan Zee Bridge after the governor’s late father.</p> <p>According to Cuomo, who held a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Capitol to celebrate what was accomplished, he and legislative leaders arrived at a compromise centered on extending mayoral control ahead of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7037-how-the-mayoral-control-special-session-works" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his calling the special session</a>. Once legislators returned to the capital, the negotiations were opened up more broadly, and a larger tentative deal was reached at around 8:30 p.m Wednesday night. That agreement followed a day of meetings behind closed doors, during which rank-and-file lawmakers, journalists, and the larger public were largely left on the sidelines. The Assembly voted to pass the omnibus bill <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/06/28/state-lawmakers-settle-on-bill-renewing-mayoral-control-tax-extenders-113137?mc_cid=b88135fdf7&amp;mc_eid=7ede0c8078" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at around 1 a.m. on Thursday</a>, while the Senate passed the bill after some internal rankling at around 2 .p.m.</p> <p>The opaque nature of the discussions, as well as the expense of keeping lawmakers in Albany at a cost of more than $30,000 -- though not all lawmakers take per diems and estimates vary -- drew criticism from lawmakers across party lines, including Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, who along with her fellow Senate Democrats urged their colleagues on the GOP side to move the bill along Thursday. </p> <p>“Another day and another example of dysfunction in the Senate,” Stewart Cousins said at a press conference outside the Senate GOP conference room. “The GOP/IDC inability to finish this session is an embarrassment. We need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money and do our jobs. The Senate Democrats are ready to vote for this package of legislation immediately. Let's go to the floor.”</p> <p>Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who was adamant during the legislative session that the lifting of the charter school cap in New York City not be included in the final bill, commended the governor and his colleagues in the Legislature for passing a comprehensive bill that would prevent disruption in the management of city schools.</p> <p>“I am proud of the efforts of Assembly members on both sides of the aisle who worked extremely hard to craft a consensus on the many pressing issues our state faces,” said Heastie, who got his way on the charter school cap, in a statement. “Working with Governor Cuomo, our successes include a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools, giving our educational system stability and allowing our school children to thrive.</p> <p>During his press conference in the Capitol’s Red Room, Cuomo ceremoniously signed the mayoral control portion of the legislative package and said he had anticipated the special session would only address mayoral control and legislation enhancing pension benefits for certain city police officers and firefighters, known as the “three-quarters bill.” However, several Senate Republicans from Upstate saw the bill as too New York City-centric.</p> <p>“The agreement was to come back and do mayoral control and the three-quarters bill. When we came back, the Assembly was fine with it,” Cuomo told reporters. “My understanding is, in the conference, the Senate said ‘We also want to do the sales tax extenders. And by the way, it’s not just the sales tax extenders,’ they said, ‘We also want do something on Vernon Downs’...That is what we were trying to avoid. Once you start to expand the wish list, it gets much, much harder to get to an agreement.”</p> <p>Offering a reason for the delay in legislative voting, Cuomo also celebrated how much got done in the end.</p> <p>The final bill offers a tax bailout to Vernon Downs, an Upstate racetrack, in order to prevent its closure and retain 300 well-paying jobs in the region; provides for critical transportation needs in Westchester County; and includes passage of a proposed constitutional amendment to aid communities in the Adirondack Mountains with infrastructure projects. In addition to the renaming of the Tappan Zee, the Legislature voted to rename Riverbank State Park in Manhattan in honor of retiring Assemblymember Denny Farrell, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1974.</p> <p>Flanagan also touted the package, saying in a Thursday statement saying that the omnibus bill "resolves a number of outstanding state issues" after "Senate Republicans were able to put together a more comprehensive package that meets the needs of taxpayers, students, and families throughout our entire state." Flanagan also indicated that there were provisions related to protecting charter schools, something Mayor de Blasio stated would be announced in the coming days as administrative, not legislative, matters.</p> <p>There was no legislative action regarding the MTA, which Cuomo had declared was in a state of emergency on Thursday morning at an event in New York City. At that event Cuomo did pledge an additional $1 billion to the MTA in next year’s budget.</p> <p>As had become evident when the budget was passed in April and through the end of the legislative session last week, no government ethics or election reforms made it through Albany this year. Two other top priorities of Mayor de Blasio’s -- design-build authority and additional speed cameras for school zones -- were also left on the chopping block.</p> <p>Still, at his own news conference on Thursday afternoon, de Blasio said he was very pleased with the outcome, especially on mayoral control. The mayor expressed relief that with the first two-year extension of his term, he would not need an Albany vote next year to keep control of the school system. What the mayor does need, however, is the approval of voters this fall when he seeks reelection.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>with reporting by Ben Max</p>
As Session Nears End, Electoral Reforms Mostly Stalled & Cuomo Quiet 2017-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6972:as-session-nears-end-electoral-reforms-mostly-stalled-cuomo-quiet Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/22127912963_5f30becd97_z_3.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/04/cuomo-says-goodbye-to-albany-and-any-ethics-push-for-the-year-111271" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prediction</a> that there is insufficient political will at the New York State Legislature to pass any significant voting reform measures this year may be coming to fruition.</p> <p>During the final weeks before the end of the legislative session, this year June 21 -- when lawmakers leave the Capitol and return to their districts for the remainder of the year -- there is typically a final thrust for policy measures that did not make it into the budget, which this year was passed in early April.</p> <p>On the electoral front, there has been a growing push from voting reform activists, civil rights organizations, and some Democratic elected officials to modernize New York’s arcane system, but, given the reluctance of Senate Republicans and, at least in part, Cuomo’s lack of prioritization of electoral reform despite saying in January he backs an ambitious agenda, major reforms appear to be elusive.</p> <p>Citing numerous barriers faced by voters during the 2016 elections, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Bill de Blasio have joined the call for Albany to pass meaningful electoral reform, a cause that has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">championed</a> by other Democrats in the state Assembly majority and Senate minority.</p> <p>Democrats in both legislative houses have introduced a slew of voting reform bills -- including legislation on early voting, automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, and “no excuse” absentee ballots, among other measures -- as they do each year. While most <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/Press/20170515/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed</a> the Democrat-controlled Assembly, as usual, the efforts are stalled in the Senate, where Republicans control the chamber by a slim majority given the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who conferences with Republicans, and bolstered by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in a coalition agreement.</p> <p>The Senate has passed a significantly slimmer electoral package, most of which would do little to increase voter access or enhance voter registration.</p> <p>So far, the only electoral legislation passed in both houses would allow polling place inspectors to work eight-hour half-shifts, when previously they were made to work 16-hour days. It is a move intended to help Boards of Elections recruit staff and improve efficiency on election days.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, sponsored by IDC Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Amy Paulin in their respective chambers, would require special ballots to be mailed to domestic violence victims and has passed each house’s election committee and is calendared for floor votes.</p> <p>The Assembly election committee <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?sh=agen2&amp;agenda=2017-06-02-20.51.46.129889&amp;ver=2017-06-02-20.51.46.188449&amp;ano=18&amp;com=Election%20Law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is meeting</a> on Tuesday, June 6, to consider a dozen more electoral law changes.</p> <p>Other relatively minor pieces of electoral <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S1567/amendment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> close to being passed in both houses relate to the way candidates are listed on the ballot, the creation of an inventory of official campaign websites, and protecting the ballot information of domestic violence victims.</p> <p>One sign of the lack of agreement on major electoral reforms, though, relates to consolidating New York’s repetitive primary election days, a cause that has bipartisan support -- in theory. Both the Senate and Assembly have passed bills to consolidate federal and state primary elections -- a move projected to save the state $25 million and help increase voter turnout -- however the houses cannot disagree on which month to hold the joint election.</p> <p>The congressional primaries were split from state level primaries in 2012, when the federal MOVE Act mandated that federal elections allow sufficient time for absentee ballots from those in the army and overseas to be collected. The Assembly bill requires the joint primary to happen in June, in order to allow more absentee ballots to trickle in, while the Senate suggests an August date, which would still meet federal regulations. Democrats argue that the August date would suppress voter turnout given peoples’ summer vacations.</p> <p>The only bill designed to expand voter access that has advanced in the Senate is an early voting bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, which would allow eligible New Yorkers an additional seven-day window prior to election day to cast their ballots, but it too appears unlikely to reach the Senate floor.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins’ bill, which mirrors legislation by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh that has passed the Assembly, would open poll sites for seven days ahead of election day, allowing one day in between the early voting period and elections. Each county, depending on its size, would be required to make at least one and up to seven polling sites available during that period.</p> <p>In March, when Stewart-Cousins forced the Senate election committee to vote on the measure, Democratic members of the committee voted to advance the bill to the Senate floor, only to have it diverted to the local government committee by GOP members. <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/05/01/senate-committee-advances-early-voting-bill-111684" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Politico wrote</a>, the majority conference is able to kill legislation without explicitly voting against it by pawning it off to another committee, which is unlikely to meet more than once or twice before the end of session and does not have to calendar a vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S3304" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A bill</a> for automatic voter registration, sponsored by Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, was defeated after a vote was compelled in the same manner.</p> <p>While Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, unveiled a sweeping electoral reform agenda during his 2017 State of the State, by April, following the passage of the budget, he appeared to have lost any can-do, <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">telling reporters</a>, “There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget."</p> <p>This lack of enthusiasm on voting reform is echoed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Republican of Long Island, who, when asked recently by a reporter, noted the fiscal component of early voting. “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day?” he asked rhetorically. “I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>While there is still time left in the legislative session, without Cuomo using his influence, movement on the issue in unlikely, according the Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group, one of the advocacy organizations lobbying for electoral reform.</p> <p>“Lawmakers don't have to face voters until next year so they are more likely to do popular things on even number years than odd number years. The governor has not shown a lot of leadership on this, so they haven't felt a lot of pressure,” Horner said.</p> <p>De Blasio, no ally of Cuomo, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> last week that he and unnamed partners intend “to launch a major effort” to see voting and election reforms passed in Albany by the end of the session.<br /><br />Cuomo’s office <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> that the governor continues to support modernizing the state’s electoral laws and will keep pushing for measures to do so despite their lack of movement through the Legislature. A spokesperson did not answer whether the governor would make any public push to see his desired electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/22127912963_5f30becd97_z_3.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/04/cuomo-says-goodbye-to-albany-and-any-ethics-push-for-the-year-111271" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prediction</a> that there is insufficient political will at the New York State Legislature to pass any significant voting reform measures this year may be coming to fruition.</p> <p>During the final weeks before the end of the legislative session, this year June 21 -- when lawmakers leave the Capitol and return to their districts for the remainder of the year -- there is typically a final thrust for policy measures that did not make it into the budget, which this year was passed in early April.</p> <p>On the electoral front, there has been a growing push from voting reform activists, civil rights organizations, and some Democratic elected officials to modernize New York’s arcane system, but, given the reluctance of Senate Republicans and, at least in part, Cuomo’s lack of prioritization of electoral reform despite saying in January he backs an ambitious agenda, major reforms appear to be elusive.</p> <p>Citing numerous barriers faced by voters during the 2016 elections, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Bill de Blasio have joined the call for Albany to pass meaningful electoral reform, a cause that has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">championed</a> by other Democrats in the state Assembly majority and Senate minority.</p> <p>Democrats in both legislative houses have introduced a slew of voting reform bills -- including legislation on early voting, automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, and “no excuse” absentee ballots, among other measures -- as they do each year. While most <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/Press/20170515/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed</a> the Democrat-controlled Assembly, as usual, the efforts are stalled in the Senate, where Republicans control the chamber by a slim majority given the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who conferences with Republicans, and bolstered by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in a coalition agreement.</p> <p>The Senate has passed a significantly slimmer electoral package, most of which would do little to increase voter access or enhance voter registration.</p> <p>So far, the only electoral legislation passed in both houses would allow polling place inspectors to work eight-hour half-shifts, when previously they were made to work 16-hour days. It is a move intended to help Boards of Elections recruit staff and improve efficiency on election days.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, sponsored by IDC Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Amy Paulin in their respective chambers, would require special ballots to be mailed to domestic violence victims and has passed each house’s election committee and is calendared for floor votes.</p> <p>The Assembly election committee <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?sh=agen2&amp;agenda=2017-06-02-20.51.46.129889&amp;ver=2017-06-02-20.51.46.188449&amp;ano=18&amp;com=Election%20Law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is meeting</a> on Tuesday, June 6, to consider a dozen more electoral law changes.</p> <p>Other relatively minor pieces of electoral <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S1567/amendment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> close to being passed in both houses relate to the way candidates are listed on the ballot, the creation of an inventory of official campaign websites, and protecting the ballot information of domestic violence victims.</p> <p>One sign of the lack of agreement on major electoral reforms, though, relates to consolidating New York’s repetitive primary election days, a cause that has bipartisan support -- in theory. Both the Senate and Assembly have passed bills to consolidate federal and state primary elections -- a move projected to save the state $25 million and help increase voter turnout -- however the houses cannot disagree on which month to hold the joint election.</p> <p>The congressional primaries were split from state level primaries in 2012, when the federal MOVE Act mandated that federal elections allow sufficient time for absentee ballots from those in the army and overseas to be collected. The Assembly bill requires the joint primary to happen in June, in order to allow more absentee ballots to trickle in, while the Senate suggests an August date, which would still meet federal regulations. Democrats argue that the August date would suppress voter turnout given peoples’ summer vacations.</p> <p>The only bill designed to expand voter access that has advanced in the Senate is an early voting bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, which would allow eligible New Yorkers an additional seven-day window prior to election day to cast their ballots, but it too appears unlikely to reach the Senate floor.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins’ bill, which mirrors legislation by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh that has passed the Assembly, would open poll sites for seven days ahead of election day, allowing one day in between the early voting period and elections. Each county, depending on its size, would be required to make at least one and up to seven polling sites available during that period.</p> <p>In March, when Stewart-Cousins forced the Senate election committee to vote on the measure, Democratic members of the committee voted to advance the bill to the Senate floor, only to have it diverted to the local government committee by GOP members. <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/05/01/senate-committee-advances-early-voting-bill-111684" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Politico wrote</a>, the majority conference is able to kill legislation without explicitly voting against it by pawning it off to another committee, which is unlikely to meet more than once or twice before the end of session and does not have to calendar a vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S3304" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A bill</a> for automatic voter registration, sponsored by Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, was defeated after a vote was compelled in the same manner.</p> <p>While Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, unveiled a sweeping electoral reform agenda during his 2017 State of the State, by April, following the passage of the budget, he appeared to have lost any can-do, <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">telling reporters</a>, “There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget."</p> <p>This lack of enthusiasm on voting reform is echoed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Republican of Long Island, who, when asked recently by a reporter, noted the fiscal component of early voting. “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day?” he asked rhetorically. “I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>While there is still time left in the legislative session, without Cuomo using his influence, movement on the issue in unlikely, according the Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group, one of the advocacy organizations lobbying for electoral reform.</p> <p>“Lawmakers don't have to face voters until next year so they are more likely to do popular things on even number years than odd number years. The governor has not shown a lot of leadership on this, so they haven't felt a lot of pressure,” Horner said.</p> <p>De Blasio, no ally of Cuomo, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> last week that he and unnamed partners intend “to launch a major effort” to see voting and election reforms passed in Albany by the end of the session.<br /><br />Cuomo’s office <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> that the governor continues to support modernizing the state’s electoral laws and will keep pushing for measures to do so despite their lack of movement through the Legislature. A spokesperson did not answer whether the governor would make any public push to see his desired electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
As Legislative Leaders Warn of Con Con Dangers, Good Government Groups Come Out in Favor 2017-05-16T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6935:as-legislative-leaders-warn-of-con-con-dangers-good-government-groups-come-out-in-favor Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/assembly_chamber_via_wikicommons.jpg" alt="assembly chamber via wikicommons" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>The Assembly (photo: wikicommons)</p> <hr /> <p>While legislative leaders are declaring opposition to a New York State constitutional convention, government reform organizations are trending in the other direction, with some who were wary of the idea in previous years coming out in support or considering doing so.</p> <p>Leading up to the November 7 vote on whether to hold a convention, the debate is shaping up around fear of what could be taken away versus hope that the public can take a shot at democratic reform.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in a joint appearance in Albany on May 9, both warned of dangers posed by deep-pocketed interests from outside the state, who could potentially derail a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>“I understand people’s desire to put it in the hands of the people to decide. But people are also subjected to campaigns,” Heastie said at the event at the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center. “I think we should be very, very careful in exposing the constitution to the whims of someone from outside of the state who can decide to spend millions of dollars to put forward their position.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6769-as-con-con-debate-heats-up-heastie-declares-opposition" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Heastie</a> and Flanagan, of the Bronx and Long Island, respectively, suggested that the state instead continue using piecemeal constitutional amendments to update the lengthy, outdated document. Such amendments must be passed by two consecutive legislative classes, then the public via singular ballot amendment.</p> <p>Similar sentiments have been expressed by Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with the GOP, and, most recently, by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/dem-warns-convention-change-n-y-constitution-article-1.3148452" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an interview with The Daily News</a>. On the other hand, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, has for years been an outspoken proponent of holding a convention and is the only legislative conference leader in support of a “yes” vote on this year’s November ballot question as to whether New York should hold a convention to edit or rewrite its constitution.</p> <p>The authors of the New York State Constitution included a provision that once every 20 years, the public would have the opportunity to completely overhaul and modernize the document. So, this Election Day, voters will vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention -- or a “con con,” as it is sometimes called -- and if the referendum passes, the people will then elect delegates, who would convene to potentially rewrite, or significantly propose modifications to the state constitution. Those proposals would then go before voters as a slate of changes to be voted up or down.</p> <p>While legislative leaders are expressing their fear of a con con, a growing number of government reform advocates say it’s an opportunity to enact long-sought reforms that have been stagnant in the Legislature.</p> <p>In March, for the first time in half a century, the League of Women Voters’ New York chapter <a href="http://files.constantcontact.com/37d635eb001/d805e949-b29f-4b1b-86a3-6ca4c081d62c.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsed a “yes” vote</a> for the once-in-a-generation referendum, citing electoral reforms, campaign finance reform, fair legislative redistricting, and the modernization of New York’s court system as motivating factors. The League had been instrumental in the last convention, which took place in 1967, but did not produce the sweeping reforms many had hoped for, and ultimately all the proposed amendments, which were controversially presented to voters as a package deal, were voted down.</p> <p>In the 1990s, the group’s board had a policy that the League would not endorse another constitutional convention unless the essential changes were made to the delegate selection and convention process. Five years ago, LWV board members agreed to modify that policy; rather than automatically opposing a convention that did not meet those requirements, the board would reconvene and consider whether to support a convention while thoroughly weighing delegate election and transparency concerns.</p> <p>In 1997, the last time a con con was on the ballot, most good government groups chose to remain neutral on the ballot question, focussing instead on launching educational campaigns about the pros and cons of holding a convention, and potential issues to be addressed. Only Citizens Union, one of New York’s leading government reform organizations (and sister organization to Gotham Gazette’s publisher, Citizens Union Foundation), has consistently backed a constitutional convention, despite what was to many a disappointing outcome from the 1967 convention.</p> <p>Twenty years ago, as was the case during previous con con votes, there was some momentum to back a convention prior to the vote, and public opinion polls showed significant interest. But a last-minute ad campaign by labor unions and other interest groups ultimately dissuaded voters for voting “yes” on the ballot question.</p> <p>“The campaign to defeat the convention referendum has created some of the oddest political bedfellows in recent memory. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Conservative Party, the Sierra Club, the National Abortion Rights Action League, legislators of both parties and Change New York, the anti-tax group, were united against the measure,” wrote Richard Perez-Pena, for the New York Times, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/05/nyregion/the-1997-elections-ballot-question-voters-reject-constitutional-convention.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on November 5, 1997</a>, just before the con con vote that year.</p> <p>This year -- which follows a two-decade stretch that has seen dozens of elected officials leave office due to ethical or legal scandal -- there appears to be a marked shift and legislative leaders are finding themselves at odds with government reform organizations who view the convention more favorably, even those who sat out the vote in 1997.</p> <p>Citizens Union is again in suppor and the League of Women Voters is not the only government reform organization reevaluating its stance. The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), which as part of its mission seeks to raise judicial standards and reform the legal system, will discuss the issue at its upcoming House of Delegates meeting on June 17, and consider voting on whether to take a position on the ballot measure, a spokesperson has confirmed.</p> <p>In February, NYSBA issued <a href="http://www.nysba.org/CustomTemplates/SecondaryStandard.aspx?id=70868" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> highlighting how a constitutional convention could streamline all aspects of New York’s bafflingly complex legal system, from traffic ticket processing to child support orders.</p> <p>The League of Women Voters does still hold concerns about how a convention would be implemented, but decided the potential benefits outweigh the risks.</p> <p>“We’re not saying this is the end-all and be-all, but we are going to try get all we want out of it. And there are risks, but it’s a balancing act. We asked the question: Is it worth it that we could gain more than people think might be lost? And the state League has decided yes, that it’s worth opening it up and trying to get the changes that we can’t get through the Legislature now,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of League of Women Voters New York.</p> <p>Ladd Bierman noted that some state lawmakers recently told members of the League they would be more amenable to pushing for voting reform if the public voted in favor of a convention.</p> <p>SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin, who has been on the front lines pushing for constitutional reform for decades, said he is not surprised government reform organizations are coming around on the issue.</p> <p>“Twenty years ago they made a set of decisions, so they have 20 years of experience in observing whether they have been able to achieve the reforms necessary -- they have not -- so they rightfully understand that this is the only way they are going to make progress,” said Benjamin. “Twenty years have reinforced the observation that the Legislature will not make fundamental structural changes, and the reputation in New York governance has steadily declined.”</p> <p>Representatives from other government watchdog organizations -- including New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, and Citizens Budget Commission -- told Gotham Gazette that they have not taken a position on the ballot question, but that the issue is being debated vigorously internally.</p> <p>“I'm not sure what we will do. Twenty years ago we thought we could play the most useful role by staying neutral and offering a balanced look at the pros and cons of a convention,” said NYPIRG’s executive director Blair Horner. “It's possible we'll be in the same place this year.”</p> <p>Bill Samuels, a businessman, con con advocate, and chair of the board of EffectiveNY, a think tank, believes the chaos surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration will also help fuel a “yes” vote in November.</p> <p>“The same activists who were around in 1967 during the civil rights-anti war movement are still around today,” he said. “When you combine that with what’s happening in Washington -- if I had to sum it up: we still have a system in Albany that’s still not reaching its goal. New York and California have emerged as the great stand-up states to Trump. We want to be excited, we want to have the best Legislature in the country, and we think we can! The best way to fight Trump is to move New York forward.”</p> <p>In the past, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has repeatedly expressed support for a convention, suggesting a con con may be the only way to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform while Republicans who oppose a public matching system and donation limits continue to control the state Senate. While Cuomo came out in vocal support last year and attempted to insert money into the state budget for a preparatory committee, the issue was not included in his 2017 State of the State policy book nor his executive budget proposal. Cuomo’s office told Gotham Gazette the governor still favors a con con, but Cuomo has not been vocal about the issue. This governor has not set aside funds to plot out a potential convention like his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, did ahead of the 1997 vote.</p> <p>During a recent meeting with The Daily News editorial board, Cuomo said he supports the idea of a convention, but “you have to find a way where the delegates do not wind up being the same legislators who you are trying to change the rules on. I have not heard a plan that does that." In this point, Cuomo echoed what a variety of other elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said about concerns regarding the delegate process.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a 40-member coalition of con con supporters called the Committee for a Constitutional Convention <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/committee-formed-to-support-constitutional-convention-vote-108991" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has launched</a>. The group includes many prominent public figures including former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, former lieutenant governor Stan Lundine, and former state senator Seymour Lachman. They are joined by constitutional experts like Professor Benjamin and Touro Law Center dean Patty Salkin and slew of well-known attorneys like the Brennan Center’s Fritz Schwarz. Bill Samuels is a member as well.</p> <p>For Citizens Union, support for a convention has only been reinforced over the last two decades. “Twenty years ago, we felt like money in politics was a problem, that effective strong oversight of public ethics was a problem, that our court system was a problem, and the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature were a problem,” said Citizen Union executive director Dick Dadey. “Those problems have not gone away. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. Our state government is broken. Budget bills are passed in the dark of night with little time to scrutinize them, pay to play culture is thriving, and voter apathy is rising.”</p> <p>Opponents of a convention fear opening up the constitution could put at risk hard-won labor and environmental protections, among others. Those concerned about outside interests swaying the outcome of a convention also note that delegates are frequently people who are well-known in public life, often those who hold or previously held a public office, and point to a skewed delegate election process, which they say undermines the point of a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>The current system allows major political parties to influence <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6628-the-best-delegate-election-process-for-a-new-york-constitutional-convention" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the delegate election</a>, by grouping together a “slate” of candidates on the ballot. Further, of 204 elected delegates, 189 would be chosen from New York’s 63 state Senate districts, three from each, which Democrats note are heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republican interests.</p> <p>While opposition forces, led by labor unions, have already begun to spend sizeable sums of money to encourage a “no” vote, it is unclear how<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6620-could-trump-sanders-populism-fuel-constitutional-convention-approval" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> rising populist sentiments</a> indicated in last year’s presidential election -- especially through the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump -- may factor in.</p> <p>If the ballot measure does pass, Ladd Bierman of LWV noted, there are many questions that must be addressed in the following legislative session. Will voters be presented with a preselected slate of delegates? Will the convention be made subject to Freedom of Information Law? Where will the convention take place? The constitution says it must take place at the Capitol on April 2, but if the convention overlaps with the legislative session, there may not be sufficient office space to host the event.</p> <p>Regardless of where they stand on the ballot measure, she said, if it passes good government groups will be on the front lines pushing for a process that is as fair, transparent, and as democratic as possible.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/assembly_chamber_via_wikicommons.jpg" alt="assembly chamber via wikicommons" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>The Assembly (photo: wikicommons)</p> <hr /> <p>While legislative leaders are declaring opposition to a New York State constitutional convention, government reform organizations are trending in the other direction, with some who were wary of the idea in previous years coming out in support or considering doing so.</p> <p>Leading up to the November 7 vote on whether to hold a convention, the debate is shaping up around fear of what could be taken away versus hope that the public can take a shot at democratic reform.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in a joint appearance in Albany on May 9, both warned of dangers posed by deep-pocketed interests from outside the state, who could potentially derail a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>“I understand people’s desire to put it in the hands of the people to decide. But people are also subjected to campaigns,” Heastie said at the event at the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center. “I think we should be very, very careful in exposing the constitution to the whims of someone from outside of the state who can decide to spend millions of dollars to put forward their position.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6769-as-con-con-debate-heats-up-heastie-declares-opposition" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Heastie</a> and Flanagan, of the Bronx and Long Island, respectively, suggested that the state instead continue using piecemeal constitutional amendments to update the lengthy, outdated document. Such amendments must be passed by two consecutive legislative classes, then the public via singular ballot amendment.</p> <p>Similar sentiments have been expressed by Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with the GOP, and, most recently, by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/dem-warns-convention-change-n-y-constitution-article-1.3148452" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an interview with The Daily News</a>. On the other hand, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, has for years been an outspoken proponent of holding a convention and is the only legislative conference leader in support of a “yes” vote on this year’s November ballot question as to whether New York should hold a convention to edit or rewrite its constitution.</p> <p>The authors of the New York State Constitution included a provision that once every 20 years, the public would have the opportunity to completely overhaul and modernize the document. So, this Election Day, voters will vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention -- or a “con con,” as it is sometimes called -- and if the referendum passes, the people will then elect delegates, who would convene to potentially rewrite, or significantly propose modifications to the state constitution. Those proposals would then go before voters as a slate of changes to be voted up or down.</p> <p>While legislative leaders are expressing their fear of a con con, a growing number of government reform advocates say it’s an opportunity to enact long-sought reforms that have been stagnant in the Legislature.</p> <p>In March, for the first time in half a century, the League of Women Voters’ New York chapter <a href="http://files.constantcontact.com/37d635eb001/d805e949-b29f-4b1b-86a3-6ca4c081d62c.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsed a “yes” vote</a> for the once-in-a-generation referendum, citing electoral reforms, campaign finance reform, fair legislative redistricting, and the modernization of New York’s court system as motivating factors. The League had been instrumental in the last convention, which took place in 1967, but did not produce the sweeping reforms many had hoped for, and ultimately all the proposed amendments, which were controversially presented to voters as a package deal, were voted down.</p> <p>In the 1990s, the group’s board had a policy that the League would not endorse another constitutional convention unless the essential changes were made to the delegate selection and convention process. Five years ago, LWV board members agreed to modify that policy; rather than automatically opposing a convention that did not meet those requirements, the board would reconvene and consider whether to support a convention while thoroughly weighing delegate election and transparency concerns.</p> <p>In 1997, the last time a con con was on the ballot, most good government groups chose to remain neutral on the ballot question, focussing instead on launching educational campaigns about the pros and cons of holding a convention, and potential issues to be addressed. Only Citizens Union, one of New York’s leading government reform organizations (and sister organization to Gotham Gazette’s publisher, Citizens Union Foundation), has consistently backed a constitutional convention, despite what was to many a disappointing outcome from the 1967 convention.</p> <p>Twenty years ago, as was the case during previous con con votes, there was some momentum to back a convention prior to the vote, and public opinion polls showed significant interest. But a last-minute ad campaign by labor unions and other interest groups ultimately dissuaded voters for voting “yes” on the ballot question.</p> <p>“The campaign to defeat the convention referendum has created some of the oddest political bedfellows in recent memory. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Conservative Party, the Sierra Club, the National Abortion Rights Action League, legislators of both parties and Change New York, the anti-tax group, were united against the measure,” wrote Richard Perez-Pena, for the New York Times, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/05/nyregion/the-1997-elections-ballot-question-voters-reject-constitutional-convention.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on November 5, 1997</a>, just before the con con vote that year.</p> <p>This year -- which follows a two-decade stretch that has seen dozens of elected officials leave office due to ethical or legal scandal -- there appears to be a marked shift and legislative leaders are finding themselves at odds with government reform organizations who view the convention more favorably, even those who sat out the vote in 1997.</p> <p>Citizens Union is again in suppor and the League of Women Voters is not the only government reform organization reevaluating its stance. The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), which as part of its mission seeks to raise judicial standards and reform the legal system, will discuss the issue at its upcoming House of Delegates meeting on June 17, and consider voting on whether to take a position on the ballot measure, a spokesperson has confirmed.</p> <p>In February, NYSBA issued <a href="http://www.nysba.org/CustomTemplates/SecondaryStandard.aspx?id=70868" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> highlighting how a constitutional convention could streamline all aspects of New York’s bafflingly complex legal system, from traffic ticket processing to child support orders.</p> <p>The League of Women Voters does still hold concerns about how a convention would be implemented, but decided the potential benefits outweigh the risks.</p> <p>“We’re not saying this is the end-all and be-all, but we are going to try get all we want out of it. And there are risks, but it’s a balancing act. We asked the question: Is it worth it that we could gain more than people think might be lost? And the state League has decided yes, that it’s worth opening it up and trying to get the changes that we can’t get through the Legislature now,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of League of Women Voters New York.</p> <p>Ladd Bierman noted that some state lawmakers recently told members of the League they would be more amenable to pushing for voting reform if the public voted in favor of a convention.</p> <p>SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin, who has been on the front lines pushing for constitutional reform for decades, said he is not surprised government reform organizations are coming around on the issue.</p> <p>“Twenty years ago they made a set of decisions, so they have 20 years of experience in observing whether they have been able to achieve the reforms necessary -- they have not -- so they rightfully understand that this is the only way they are going to make progress,” said Benjamin. “Twenty years have reinforced the observation that the Legislature will not make fundamental structural changes, and the reputation in New York governance has steadily declined.”</p> <p>Representatives from other government watchdog organizations -- including New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, and Citizens Budget Commission -- told Gotham Gazette that they have not taken a position on the ballot question, but that the issue is being debated vigorously internally.</p> <p>“I'm not sure what we will do. Twenty years ago we thought we could play the most useful role by staying neutral and offering a balanced look at the pros and cons of a convention,” said NYPIRG’s executive director Blair Horner. “It's possible we'll be in the same place this year.”</p> <p>Bill Samuels, a businessman, con con advocate, and chair of the board of EffectiveNY, a think tank, believes the chaos surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration will also help fuel a “yes” vote in November.</p> <p>“The same activists who were around in 1967 during the civil rights-anti war movement are still around today,” he said. “When you combine that with what’s happening in Washington -- if I had to sum it up: we still have a system in Albany that’s still not reaching its goal. New York and California have emerged as the great stand-up states to Trump. We want to be excited, we want to have the best Legislature in the country, and we think we can! The best way to fight Trump is to move New York forward.”</p> <p>In the past, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has repeatedly expressed support for a convention, suggesting a con con may be the only way to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform while Republicans who oppose a public matching system and donation limits continue to control the state Senate. While Cuomo came out in vocal support last year and attempted to insert money into the state budget for a preparatory committee, the issue was not included in his 2017 State of the State policy book nor his executive budget proposal. Cuomo’s office told Gotham Gazette the governor still favors a con con, but Cuomo has not been vocal about the issue. This governor has not set aside funds to plot out a potential convention like his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, did ahead of the 1997 vote.</p> <p>During a recent meeting with The Daily News editorial board, Cuomo said he supports the idea of a convention, but “you have to find a way where the delegates do not wind up being the same legislators who you are trying to change the rules on. I have not heard a plan that does that." In this point, Cuomo echoed what a variety of other elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said about concerns regarding the delegate process.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a 40-member coalition of con con supporters called the Committee for a Constitutional Convention <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/committee-formed-to-support-constitutional-convention-vote-108991" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has launched</a>. The group includes many prominent public figures including former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, former lieutenant governor Stan Lundine, and former state senator Seymour Lachman. They are joined by constitutional experts like Professor Benjamin and Touro Law Center dean Patty Salkin and slew of well-known attorneys like the Brennan Center’s Fritz Schwarz. Bill Samuels is a member as well.</p> <p>For Citizens Union, support for a convention has only been reinforced over the last two decades. “Twenty years ago, we felt like money in politics was a problem, that effective strong oversight of public ethics was a problem, that our court system was a problem, and the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature were a problem,” said Citizen Union executive director Dick Dadey. “Those problems have not gone away. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. Our state government is broken. Budget bills are passed in the dark of night with little time to scrutinize them, pay to play culture is thriving, and voter apathy is rising.”</p> <p>Opponents of a convention fear opening up the constitution could put at risk hard-won labor and environmental protections, among others. Those concerned about outside interests swaying the outcome of a convention also note that delegates are frequently people who are well-known in public life, often those who hold or previously held a public office, and point to a skewed delegate election process, which they say undermines the point of a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>The current system allows major political parties to influence <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6628-the-best-delegate-election-process-for-a-new-york-constitutional-convention" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the delegate election</a>, by grouping together a “slate” of candidates on the ballot. Further, of 204 elected delegates, 189 would be chosen from New York’s 63 state Senate districts, three from each, which Democrats note are heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republican interests.</p> <p>While opposition forces, led by labor unions, have already begun to spend sizeable sums of money to encourage a “no” vote, it is unclear how<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6620-could-trump-sanders-populism-fuel-constitutional-convention-approval" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> rising populist sentiments</a> indicated in last year’s presidential election -- especially through the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump -- may factor in.</p> <p>If the ballot measure does pass, Ladd Bierman of LWV noted, there are many questions that must be addressed in the following legislative session. Will voters be presented with a preselected slate of delegates? Will the convention be made subject to Freedom of Information Law? Where will the convention take place? The constitution says it must take place at the Capitol on April 2, but if the convention overlaps with the legislative session, there may not be sufficient office space to host the event.</p> <p>Regardless of where they stand on the ballot measure, she said, if it passes good government groups will be on the front lines pushing for a process that is as fair, transparent, and as democratic as possible.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Activists, Lawmakers Rally for Voting Reform at Capitol 2017-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6908:activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_better_ny_capitol_.jpg" alt="vote better ny capitol " width="600" height="467" /></p> <p>Tuesday's rally (photo: @NYCVotes)</p> <hr /> <p>A coalition of electoral reform activists were joined by Democratic state lawmakers during their annual pilgrimage to the New York State Capitol Tuesday to call for legislation that would remove barriers to the ballot and ensure that eligible New Yorkers are provided more opportunity to vote.</p> <p>“Vote Better NY” seeks common sense changes to New York's voting laws to ensure that more eligible New Yorkers make it to the polls. This year, the organization is advocating for a slew of bills, including early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, which would streamline the registration process, the New York Votes Act, which refers to automatic registration, as well as new preclearance measures before any additional requirements are added to the current voter registration process.</p> <p>Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Latrice Walker, and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh attended the rally, which was organized in large part by NYC Votes, the voter engagement arm of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and key member of the Vote Better NY coalition. More than 100 organizers and activists boarded three coach buses from the city early Tuesday morning to rally at the Capitol and then meet in small groups with individual legislators to lobby them toward supporting the voting reform agenda. There has been little movement on such reform in Albany despite a good deal of support and New York’s decidedly antiquated laws.</p> <p>“Elections have consequences. New York has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation and that should embarrass us,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement put out by Vote Better NY. “We should be making it easier to vote and not be putting up roadblocks. That is why I have advanced legislation to enable early voting, and why the Senate Democratic Conference has rolled out multiple pro-voter bills.”</p> <p>New York has some of the most arcane voter access guidelines in the nation. In 2014, the state ranked 49 of the country’s 50 states in terms of voter turnout. While other states have improved their voting laws to increase ballot access, New York’s abysmal turnout has grown worse for presidential, gubernatorial, and New York City mayoral elections.</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), who participated the rally, said, “New York ranks consistently as one of the nation's worst states in terms of voter participation, driven by our archaic voter registration and election administration systems. Still, young people want to participate in democracy. NYPIRG sees that every day on college campuses across the state.”</p> <p>In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, a new movement to overhaul New York’s voting laws gained support from several high-profile city and state officials, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6752-attorney-general-unveils-sweeping-voting-reforms-package" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman</a> and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>During his 2017 State of the State speaking tour and in his executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of significant reforms: automatic registration, same-day registration, and early voting. Though the governor vowed to “try like heck” to have the reforms included in the state budget, they did not make it into the final policy and spending plan that was announced last month. In an April appearance at the governor’s mansion, Cuomo blamed the Legislature, which he said lacked the appetite for such reforms.</p> <p>"My point is: There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget," Cuomo <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> during an annual Easter open house.</p> <p>While increasing voter access should be a bipartisan issue, Republicans in the State Senate have historically blocked electoral reform measures, for fear that the conference would lose its razor-thin majority. After appearing at a rally for the corrections officers’ union Monday, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, suggested he may be open to discussing the idea, but couple that sentiment with skepticism about the cost and implementation of any real voting reform.</p> <p>“It depends how you define voter access; it’s a conversation we should be having regardless,” Flanagan told reporters, citing enlarging the font on the ballot as a sensible reform measure.</p> <p>When asked about early voting, he told reporters, “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day? I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_better_ny_capitol_.jpg" alt="vote better ny capitol " width="600" height="467" /></p> <p>Tuesday's rally (photo: @NYCVotes)</p> <hr /> <p>A coalition of electoral reform activists were joined by Democratic state lawmakers during their annual pilgrimage to the New York State Capitol Tuesday to call for legislation that would remove barriers to the ballot and ensure that eligible New Yorkers are provided more opportunity to vote.</p> <p>“Vote Better NY” seeks common sense changes to New York's voting laws to ensure that more eligible New Yorkers make it to the polls. This year, the organization is advocating for a slew of bills, including early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, which would streamline the registration process, the New York Votes Act, which refers to automatic registration, as well as new preclearance measures before any additional requirements are added to the current voter registration process.</p> <p>Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Latrice Walker, and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh attended the rally, which was organized in large part by NYC Votes, the voter engagement arm of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and key member of the Vote Better NY coalition. More than 100 organizers and activists boarded three coach buses from the city early Tuesday morning to rally at the Capitol and then meet in small groups with individual legislators to lobby them toward supporting the voting reform agenda. There has been little movement on such reform in Albany despite a good deal of support and New York’s decidedly antiquated laws.</p> <p>“Elections have consequences. New York has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation and that should embarrass us,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement put out by Vote Better NY. “We should be making it easier to vote and not be putting up roadblocks. That is why I have advanced legislation to enable early voting, and why the Senate Democratic Conference has rolled out multiple pro-voter bills.”</p> <p>New York has some of the most arcane voter access guidelines in the nation. In 2014, the state ranked 49 of the country’s 50 states in terms of voter turnout. While other states have improved their voting laws to increase ballot access, New York’s abysmal turnout has grown worse for presidential, gubernatorial, and New York City mayoral elections.</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), who participated the rally, said, “New York ranks consistently as one of the nation's worst states in terms of voter participation, driven by our archaic voter registration and election administration systems. Still, young people want to participate in democracy. NYPIRG sees that every day on college campuses across the state.”</p> <p>In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, a new movement to overhaul New York’s voting laws gained support from several high-profile city and state officials, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6752-attorney-general-unveils-sweeping-voting-reforms-package" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman</a> and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>During his 2017 State of the State speaking tour and in his executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of significant reforms: automatic registration, same-day registration, and early voting. Though the governor vowed to “try like heck” to have the reforms included in the state budget, they did not make it into the final policy and spending plan that was announced last month. In an April appearance at the governor’s mansion, Cuomo blamed the Legislature, which he said lacked the appetite for such reforms.</p> <p>"My point is: There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget," Cuomo <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> during an annual Easter open house.</p> <p>While increasing voter access should be a bipartisan issue, Republicans in the State Senate have historically blocked electoral reform measures, for fear that the conference would lose its razor-thin majority. After appearing at a rally for the corrections officers’ union Monday, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, suggested he may be open to discussing the idea, but couple that sentiment with skepticism about the cost and implementation of any real voting reform.</p> <p>“It depends how you define voter access; it’s a conversation we should be having regardless,” Flanagan told reporters, citing enlarging the font on the ballot as a sensible reform measure.</p> <p>When asked about early voting, he told reporters, “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day? I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
The 'Three Men in a Room' and Millions Outside 2017-03-30T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-30T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6842:the-three-men-in-a-room-and-millions-outside Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/19088127502_ba02edfaa4_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Heastie Flanagan 2015" width="600" height="371" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan in 2015 (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>It’s the last week of March, which means the final stretch of New York State budget negotiations, and all are watching the “three men in a room,” an adage that has come to symbolize Albany’s opaque government processes and concentration of power.</p> <p>Each March, for as long as anyone can remember, the governor, the speaker of the Assembly and the majority leader of the Senate hold frequent, clandestine meetings to hammer out important policy decisions and decide the fate of billions of dollars in state funding. A state budget is due by the April 1 start of the new state fiscal year. For many years, the Assembly has been controlled by Democrats, largely from New York City, while the Senate has been dominated by Republicans, mostly from upstate and Long Island, though the margin in the Senate has been quite slim for several years and Democrats held control briefly.</p> <p>In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, changed the paradigm slightly to allow a fourth man in the room: Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the eight-member breakaway group known as the Independent Democratic Conference, which has a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP. The move was decried as unfair by both minority leaders, those of the Senate’s mainline Democrats and the Assembly Republicans.</p> <p>Whether three or four, the depiction of an exclusive club of legislative leaders and the governor alone in “the room,” mapping out the state’s interests behind closed doors, is not entirely accurate. Often in the room are senior staffers -- including budget directors and chiefs of staff -- who are intensely involved in negotiation and planning, while outside voices -- interest groups, lobbyists, rank-and-file legislators, think tanks, and others -- also wield some, usually small degree of influence over the participants and their decisions. It is typically true that the legislative leaders in “the room” are there with some instruction from their conferences about top priorities, items they are willing to trade for others, non-starters, and degrees to which they are will to accept partial victories.</p> <p>Legislative leaders will often run from the negotiating room back to their conferences to discuss some details and get a sense of whether their minions are willing to go along with the latest deals on the table.</p> <p>But for the vast majority of the 150 members of the Assembly and 63 members of the Senate, who serve on largely powerless committees, subcommittees, legislative commissions, and task forces, the doors to the room are closed, and the opportunity to influence final details of what is in and what is out of the state’s most important annual document is minimal.</p> <p>Also out of the loop is the public. During the final week of budget negotiations at the Capitol, the statehouse press corps can be spotted diligently waiting outside of closed-door meetings, hoping to garner nuggets of information about the status of major issues like “Raise the Age,” an upstate expansion of ride-hailing apps, water infrastructure funding, education aid, and other contours of the $150 billion spending plan. When legislative leaders -- Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, IDC Leader Klein -- do emerge from the governor’s office or various conference rooms, their comments are usually sparse and cryptic.</p> <p>“I would say progress has been made on a lot of these issues,” Heastie told reporters on Tuesday. “But when all these things are interconnected for an issue that’s largely important to either us, the Senate, or the governor, that’s not been dealt with, there’s no deal.”</p> <p>Following the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in 2015, Cuomo and the new legislative leaders have even become more evasive of the press, holding negotiation sessions and leadership meetings at the Governor's Mansion.</p> <p>On Monday, Cuomo noted that, unlike his predecessors, he has made point to involve Senate and Assembly committee members on high stakes policy issues like “Raise the Age,” which would increase the age that a person may be charged like an adult in criminal court, and has emerged as a major sticking point in this year’s negotiations.</p> <p>"What I do -- which is a little different than past governors -- is on a truly complex issue like Raise the Age, like marriage equality, like gun safety, I actually bring in the senators and assemblymen who are the heads of those committees and work through the language myself,” Cuomo said Monday during <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2017/03/27/ny1-online--cuomo-on-sanctuary-cities--state-budget.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an interview on NY1</a>.</p> <p>While this may be true for some high-profile issues, negotiations are almost exclusively among Cuomo and the legislative leaders when it comes to the rest of the policy and funding that is decided.</p> <p>The system has shifted in other ways under Cuomo, who came to office in 2011 promising to restore function to state government and has delivered six consecutive on-time budgets, a point of pride for the governor that he regularly boasts about and has been given credit for. However, this usually means that the budget is passed late on March 31, sometimes spilling into April 1, with deals coming together in the final hours and almost no time for public review. Rank-and-file lawmakers usually only have a few hours to review complex budget documents before voting them through.</p> <p>The deadline and Cuomo’s fixation on meeting it, along with the nature of negotiations among governing factions, have led the governor to issue a “message of necessity,” a motion to waive the aging period for bills required by the state constitution.</p> <p>While the law calls for a three-day waiting period between printing of a bill and the day it is voted on, so that the public may review it, Cuomo, like previous governors, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6254-for-state-budget-leaders-choose-on-time-over-open" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">typically issues a "message of necessity"</a> to bypass the requirement and speed the process along. It is a practice that has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6254-for-state-budget-leaders-choose-on-time-over-open" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized</a> by good government groups and some legislators, who say timeliness should not be prioritized over transparency. Rather, these exceptions should be used sparingly, and for real emergencies like natural disasters.</p> <p>“The ‘message of necessity’ in the passing of the state budget has become as predictable as snow is in January,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform organization Citizens Union. “And it’s unfortunate, because that power should only be used in extreme circumstances. It has deprived the public the time to review and scrutinize the state budget before it has passed.”</p> <p>Heastie and Flanagan, both relatively new to their leadership positions, appear more willing to involve rank-and-file lawmakers in budget talks than their predecessors. For example, Heastie sends frequent updates to his conference members on his interactions with Cuomo and Flanagan, sometimes hourly, according to Assemblymember Nily Rozic of Queens.</p> <p>Calling the situation a “vast improvement” from the way the budget worked when she was first elected to the seat in 2012 and Silver was speaker, Rozic said that as a rank-and-file member of the Assembly now, “You certainly have opportunities to make your opinion known and to pick a few issues that you care about and to advocate for them in the budget process.”</p> <p>On the Senate side, a spokesperson for Flanagan said the majority leader frequently seeks the input of his conference and brings issues back to its members for debate.&nbsp;"We are a member driven conference," said Scott Reif, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "The legislative leaders and the Governor don't decide a budget on their own. Our entire Senate Republican Conference is working together every minute of every day to put together the best possible budget we can for hardworking. middle-class taxpayers and their families."</p> <p>While legislators may feel more involved in final negotiations than in the past, messages to the public as the state budget deadline nears are often inconsistent or muddled by contradictory reports. On Monday, Flanagan, Heastie, and Klein expressed confidence that the budget would be delivered on-time, while Cuomo floated the idea of an “extender budget,” which would temporarily continue last year’s budget in order to account for uncertainties on the federal level.</p> <p>On Tuesday afternoon, Assembly Democrats were told in a closed-door meeting that there would be no temporary budget extender, though Heastie, in an earlier interview said he was open to the budget being adopted in phases, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/28/cuomo-says-federal-funding-uncertainty-delay-final-ny-budget/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Buffalo News reported</a>.</p> <p>Members of the minority conferences, for their part, say they are privy to fewer details of budget talks and that they often learn the details of the budget bills when it is time to vote on them. According to Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, letters addressed to Cuomo and Heastie go unanswered so he must “get creative” in order to represent the interests of his conference on the budget.</p> <p>“The avenues we employ is social media, interviews like I’m doing with you, certainly we put out any number of press statements and policy statements,” said Kolb, whose conference is about half the size of the majority. “I think it should be that way, but we are dealing with facts and reality, so we have to be creative at figuring out ways to articulate our views.”</p> <p>For Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat whose chamber is controlled by Republicans by a razor thin margin and whose conference has long championed issues like Raise the Age, the stakes are higher. Stewart-Cousins has raised concerns that education aid and Raise The Age are being "watered-down," while ethics reforms and the DREAM Act are “being forgotten.”</p> <p>“We obviously send written communication to our colleagues, I am in constant contact with Speak Heastie, I talk with the governor. People understand that we are invested in making sure that the right policy is in the budget,” said Stewart-Cousins in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The leaders of both minority conferences say they believe they should be in the negotiating room, helping to formulate the budget and major policy deals. Spokespeople for Heastie and Cuomo did not return requests for comment on the transparency of the budget negotiation process.</p> <p>"We should be in the room and it's because of the public, not because of Brian Kolb,” said the Assembly minority leader. “It's because of the millions of people that our conference represents and the millions of people that Andrea Stewart-Cousins represents," Kolb said, adding that none of the leaders in the room are from Upstate.</p> <p>Last year, a campaign to let Stewart-Cousins participate in budget negotiations -- which would earn her the distinction of being the first woman “in the room” -- went nowhere. “Changing these types of institutions is very, very difficult,” she said Tuesday, about three-and-a-half days before the budget was due.</p> <p><em>Note: The article has been updated to include comment from a Senate GOP spokesperson.</em></p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/19088127502_ba02edfaa4_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Heastie Flanagan 2015" width="600" height="371" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan in 2015 (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>It’s the last week of March, which means the final stretch of New York State budget negotiations, and all are watching the “three men in a room,” an adage that has come to symbolize Albany’s opaque government processes and concentration of power.</p> <p>Each March, for as long as anyone can remember, the governor, the speaker of the Assembly and the majority leader of the Senate hold frequent, clandestine meetings to hammer out important policy decisions and decide the fate of billions of dollars in state funding. A state budget is due by the April 1 start of the new state fiscal year. For many years, the Assembly has been controlled by Democrats, largely from New York City, while the Senate has been dominated by Republicans, mostly from upstate and Long Island, though the margin in the Senate has been quite slim for several years and Democrats held control briefly.</p> <p>In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, changed the paradigm slightly to allow a fourth man in the room: Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the eight-member breakaway group known as the Independent Democratic Conference, which has a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP. The move was decried as unfair by both minority leaders, those of the Senate’s mainline Democrats and the Assembly Republicans.</p> <p>Whether three or four, the depiction of an exclusive club of legislative leaders and the governor alone in “the room,” mapping out the state’s interests behind closed doors, is not entirely accurate. Often in the room are senior staffers -- including budget directors and chiefs of staff -- who are intensely involved in negotiation and planning, while outside voices -- interest groups, lobbyists, rank-and-file legislators, think tanks, and others -- also wield some, usually small degree of influence over the participants and their decisions. It is typically true that the legislative leaders in “the room” are there with some instruction from their conferences about top priorities, items they are willing to trade for others, non-starters, and degrees to which they are will to accept partial victories.</p> <p>Legislative leaders will often run from the negotiating room back to their conferences to discuss some details and get a sense of whether their minions are willing to go along with the latest deals on the table.</p> <p>But for the vast majority of the 150 members of the Assembly and 63 members of the Senate, who serve on largely powerless committees, subcommittees, legislative commissions, and task forces, the doors to the room are closed, and the opportunity to influence final details of what is in and what is out of the state’s most important annual document is minimal.</p> <p>Also out of the loop is the public. During the final week of budget negotiations at the Capitol, the statehouse press corps can be spotted diligently waiting outside of closed-door meetings, hoping to garner nuggets of information about the status of major issues like “Raise the Age,” an upstate expansion of ride-hailing apps, water infrastructure funding, education aid, and other contours of the $150 billion spending plan. When legislative leaders -- Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, IDC Leader Klein -- do emerge from the governor’s office or various conference rooms, their comments are usually sparse and cryptic.</p> <p>“I would say progress has been made on a lot of these issues,” Heastie told reporters on Tuesday. “But when all these things are interconnected for an issue that’s largely important to either us, the Senate, or the governor, that’s not been dealt with, there’s no deal.”</p> <p>Following the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in 2015, Cuomo and the new legislative leaders have even become more evasive of the press, holding negotiation sessions and leadership meetings at the Governor's Mansion.</p> <p>On Monday, Cuomo noted that, unlike his predecessors, he has made point to involve Senate and Assembly committee members on high stakes policy issues like “Raise the Age,” which would increase the age that a person may be charged like an adult in criminal court, and has emerged as a major sticking point in this year’s negotiations.</p> <p>"What I do -- which is a little different than past governors -- is on a truly complex issue like Raise the Age, like marriage equality, like gun safety, I actually bring in the senators and assemblymen who are the heads of those committees and work through the language myself,” Cuomo said Monday during <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2017/03/27/ny1-online--cuomo-on-sanctuary-cities--state-budget.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an interview on NY1</a>.</p> <p>While this may be true for some high-profile issues, negotiations are almost exclusively among Cuomo and the legislative leaders when it comes to the rest of the policy and funding that is decided.</p> <p>The system has shifted in other ways under Cuomo, who came to office in 2011 promising to restore function to state government and has delivered six consecutive on-time budgets, a point of pride for the governor that he regularly boasts about and has been given credit for. However, this usually means that the budget is passed late on March 31, sometimes spilling into April 1, with deals coming together in the final hours and almost no time for public review. Rank-and-file lawmakers usually only have a few hours to review complex budget documents before voting them through.</p> <p>The deadline and Cuomo’s fixation on meeting it, along with the nature of negotiations among governing factions, have led the governor to issue a “message of necessity,” a motion to waive the aging period for bills required by the state constitution.</p> <p>While the law calls for a three-day waiting period between printing of a bill and the day it is voted on, so that the public may review it, Cuomo, like previous governors, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6254-for-state-budget-leaders-choose-on-time-over-open" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">typically issues a "message of necessity"</a> to bypass the requirement and speed the process along. It is a practice that has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6254-for-state-budget-leaders-choose-on-time-over-open" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized</a> by good government groups and some legislators, who say timeliness should not be prioritized over transparency. Rather, these exceptions should be used sparingly, and for real emergencies like natural disasters.</p> <p>“The ‘message of necessity’ in the passing of the state budget has become as predictable as snow is in January,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform organization Citizens Union. “And it’s unfortunate, because that power should only be used in extreme circumstances. It has deprived the public the time to review and scrutinize the state budget before it has passed.”</p> <p>Heastie and Flanagan, both relatively new to their leadership positions, appear more willing to involve rank-and-file lawmakers in budget talks than their predecessors. For example, Heastie sends frequent updates to his conference members on his interactions with Cuomo and Flanagan, sometimes hourly, according to Assemblymember Nily Rozic of Queens.</p> <p>Calling the situation a “vast improvement” from the way the budget worked when she was first elected to the seat in 2012 and Silver was speaker, Rozic said that as a rank-and-file member of the Assembly now, “You certainly have opportunities to make your opinion known and to pick a few issues that you care about and to advocate for them in the budget process.”</p> <p>On the Senate side, a spokesperson for Flanagan said the majority leader frequently seeks the input of his conference and brings issues back to its members for debate.&nbsp;"We are a member driven conference," said Scott Reif, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "The legislative leaders and the Governor don't decide a budget on their own. Our entire Senate Republican Conference is working together every minute of every day to put together the best possible budget we can for hardworking. middle-class taxpayers and their families."</p> <p>While legislators may feel more involved in final negotiations than in the past, messages to the public as the state budget deadline nears are often inconsistent or muddled by contradictory reports. On Monday, Flanagan, Heastie, and Klein expressed confidence that the budget would be delivered on-time, while Cuomo floated the idea of an “extender budget,” which would temporarily continue last year’s budget in order to account for uncertainties on the federal level.</p> <p>On Tuesday afternoon, Assembly Democrats were told in a closed-door meeting that there would be no temporary budget extender, though Heastie, in an earlier interview said he was open to the budget being adopted in phases, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/28/cuomo-says-federal-funding-uncertainty-delay-final-ny-budget/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Buffalo News reported</a>.</p> <p>Members of the minority conferences, for their part, say they are privy to fewer details of budget talks and that they often learn the details of the budget bills when it is time to vote on them. According to Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, letters addressed to Cuomo and Heastie go unanswered so he must “get creative” in order to represent the interests of his conference on the budget.</p> <p>“The avenues we employ is social media, interviews like I’m doing with you, certainly we put out any number of press statements and policy statements,” said Kolb, whose conference is about half the size of the majority. “I think it should be that way, but we are dealing with facts and reality, so we have to be creative at figuring out ways to articulate our views.”</p> <p>For Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat whose chamber is controlled by Republicans by a razor thin margin and whose conference has long championed issues like Raise the Age, the stakes are higher. Stewart-Cousins has raised concerns that education aid and Raise The Age are being "watered-down," while ethics reforms and the DREAM Act are “being forgotten.”</p> <p>“We obviously send written communication to our colleagues, I am in constant contact with Speak Heastie, I talk with the governor. People understand that we are invested in making sure that the right policy is in the budget,” said Stewart-Cousins in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The leaders of both minority conferences say they believe they should be in the negotiating room, helping to formulate the budget and major policy deals. Spokespeople for Heastie and Cuomo did not return requests for comment on the transparency of the budget negotiation process.</p> <p>"We should be in the room and it's because of the public, not because of Brian Kolb,” said the Assembly minority leader. “It's because of the millions of people that our conference represents and the millions of people that Andrea Stewart-Cousins represents," Kolb said, adding that none of the leaders in the room are from Upstate.</p> <p>Last year, a campaign to let Stewart-Cousins participate in budget negotiations -- which would earn her the distinction of being the first woman “in the room” -- went nowhere. “Changing these types of institutions is very, very difficult,” she said Tuesday, about three-and-a-half days before the budget was due.</p> <p><em>Note: The article has been updated to include comment from a Senate GOP spokesperson.</em></p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Tensions High as State Legislature Returns to Session 2017-01-05T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-05T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6700:tensions-high-as-state-legislature-returns-to-session Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18535307844_847c491fe0_z_1.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="cuomo heastie flanagan" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan</p> <hr /> <p>Several themes loomed as the New York State Legislature held its first day of its new session on Wednesday in Albany. The 2017 legislative calendar, and with it the 2017-2018 Legislature, began oaths of office and speeches by party leaders in both the state Senate and Assembly. The tone was set, priorities were announced or reaffirmed, tensions were evident, and the jog toward the next state budget -- due by April 1 -- began.</p> <p>The most important remarks were delivered by the two majority leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, and Senate President John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, who laid out their respective agendas for the coming year. Importantly, Flanagan in particular made clear that the Legislature has bones to pick with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was not in Albany Wednesday, but in New York City, where he was making yet another infrastructure announcement, the second plank of his 2017 State of the State Agenda.</p> <p>The prologue to Wednesday was a set of late 2016 dynamics that set the stage for what could be a volatile 2017: fraught negotiations between state lawmakers and Cuomo over a potential pay increase and special legislative session; the November election of President-elect Donald Trump; and news that the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) -- a breakaway group of Senate Democrats -- would continue to caucus with Republicans, who maintained their own slim majority in the chamber thanks to the elections and Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who caucuses with the GOP.</p> <p>On specific policy matters, higher education affordability became a central issue of the first session day following Cuomo’s surprise Tuesday announcement of a proposal to make public college tuition-free for students from New York families earning less than $125,000 per year. Cuomo launched the Excelsior Scholarship plan -- his first State of the State proposal -- in Queens with former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, garnering national headlines, and forcing legislators to respond. Many want to know more about the potential costs and funding plan -- Cuomo’s Executive Budget is due by January 17.</p> <p><strong>Leaders and Priorities</strong><br />In his opening remarks on the Assembly floor, Heastie, who was re-elected Speaker with 99 votes, over 41 for Minority Leader Brian Kolb, emphasized the importance of investing in education, such as fulfilling the state’s campaign for fiscal equity obligation, expanding President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, and the passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide college tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. “The sad truth is that public education is under attack across the country like never before,” Heastie said.</p> <p>Heastie hailed Cuomo’s plan to make city and state colleges tuition-free for middle- and low-income New Yorkers, noting that the Assembly had been pushing a similar education bill.</p> <p>“For those of you that have been here for some time, you know that the idea of college affordability started right here in this house,” said Heastie of the Assembly. “I am encouraged that the governor is making this a priority, and we look forward to working with him and the Senate to help make this a reality.”</p> <p>The Assembly speaker also focused on criminal justice reform, climate change, the importance of codifying Roe vs. Wade into New York law under a Trump administration, updating transportation options in Upstate New York, and New York City’s affordable housing crisis.</p> <p>Meanwhile, is it often is, the mood was more tense on the Senate floor. Flanagan won re-election as Senate president with 32 out of 63 votes, emblematic of the GOP’s slim majority.</p> <p>Mainline Democrats, still raw from the election results and caucus decisions by Felder and the seven-member IDC, addressed their Democratic colleagues bluntly and pushed back on two measures proposed by the majority, which they said were aimed at curtailing transparency in Senate proceedings. There was even a movement to make Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins temporary Senate president.</p> <p>Harsh criticism of Felder and the IDC continued from fellow Democrats and progressive groups, who argue that a unified Democratic Party is necessary to form a bulwark against the incoming federal administration.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, made the case for electing Stewart-Cousins as temporary president, noting her long record of accomplishments and her distinction as the first female state legislative leader in either chamber. “I ask my colleagues to consider making history today, and she already has done so by being the first female legislative leader in New York State,” Gianaris said. “Today, we have the opportunity to make her the first female majority leader in either chamber.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins called for unity among Democrats in her opening remarks. “I look at a chamber of 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans, yet once again we are denied our rightful place leading the Senate,” she said. “Democrats must be true to their values especially in the atmosphere we are going to be facing. Democrats should be united!”</p> <p>In other telling signs of Senate dynamics, IDC Deputy Leader David Valesky moved to nominate IDC Leader Jeff Klein as temporary president, and Republican Senator John DeFrancisco, in his endorsement of Flanagan for the role, compared Flanagan to Stewart-Cousins, saying that under the Republican lawmaker’s leadership, more women than ever have been brought into the Senate.</p> <p><strong>Transparency Attack</strong><br />Gianaris also took several jabs at the IDC as he peppered Senate Ethics Committee Chair Thomas D. Croci with questions over a proposed amendment that would have an equal number from each of the two major political parties appointed to the committee. Gianaris questioned how the bipartisan committee would be selected when IDC members have aligned themselves with Republicans.</p> <p>“Will the minority leader get to appoint the same amount as the majority coalition? Or is the language somehow imbalanced?” said Gianaris.</p> <p>Croci, a Republican from Long Island, responded that the committee would be split equally by party affiliation and that the rule was intended to clarify the role of the committee as it relates to a similar committee in the Assembly chamber.</p> <p>“There was some confusion last year about the role of our committee and that of the committee in the Assembly. What we are trying to do is create parity with the Assembly chamber,” Croci said, adding that “some things should transcend politics.”</p> <p>In another testy exchange, Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, challenged DeFrancisco on a resolution to ban cell phone usage on the Senate chamber floor (the ban would include prohibition on taking photos or filming without explicit permission, thus limiting members of the media from doing their jobs). DeFrancisco maintained that filming “upset the decorum in the chamber,” while Hoylman repeatedly challenged DeFrancisco to cite an example in which cell phone usage disrupted proceedings and called it infringement on free speech rights.</p> <p>Senator Felder stood up and started filming the exchange, prompting applause, and several legislators walked out, muttering things like “I can’t listen to this.” Senate Democratic Communications Director Mike Murphy slammed the “Trump-style” resolution, noting its similarities to a bill passed in Washington penalizing lawmakers who film or take photos on the U.S. Senate floor, <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/312578-house-gop-passes-rules-aimed-at-preventing-lawmaker-sit-ins-protests" target="_blank">which moved</a> after a Democratic sit-in over gun regulation.</p> <p>“Under the Republicans, the State Senate has repeatedly rushed important votes through in the middle of the night, away from public scrutiny,” Murphy said. “This new rule will continue the GOP pattern of avoiding transparency and concealing their actions from New Yorkers. The people have a right to know what is happening in their Senate Chamber.” The resolution was passed by voice vote.</p> <p>In her remarks, Stewart-Cousins laid out a wide-ranging progressive agenda for the coming year including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility and expanding universal pre-kindergarten. She addressed Klein and Flanagan directly, saying, “Senator Flanagan and Senator Klein, the Democratic Conference stands ready to work with you when we agree and we will not be shy when we disagree.”</p> <p>Flanagan, in a somewhat more casual speech, emphasized economic development and job creation as way to address some of the social and economic policy issues raised by Stewart-Cousins. He also made a point to praise the Assembly speaker, calling Heastie a “gentleman” and a “class act.”</p> <p>Flanagan suggested that fed-up lawmakers step up their pressure on Cuomo this year, urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils. Cuomo’s record on job creation and use of government subsidies has been questioned, including with regard to a major corruption scandal in the governor’s signature economic development program.</p> <p>“It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.”</p> <p>The majority leader vowed to “stand up for the independence of this body,” suggesting that the Senate may act as a greater check on the governor’s power in the coming year. He was met with a standing applause.</p> <p><strong>Resisting A Trump Administration</strong><br />The uncertainty surrounding President-elect Donald Trump -- particularly his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, a move that could <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20161109/POLITICS/161109829/trump-presidency-may-jeopardize-the-health-coverage-of-2-8-million-new-yorkers" target="_blank">jeopardize insurance coverage</a> for 2.8 million New Yorkers -- loomed in both chambers, and both Democratic leaders vowed resistance to the incoming administration.</p> <p>“Last November’s election taught us many lessons. Among them, that the road to progress is never easy. But I promise New Yorkers that the Assembly Majority will never allow this state to go backward,” said Heastie.</p> <p>In the Senate, Stewart-Cousins said, “Many in this great progressive state of New York look to Washington and the new Trump administration with grave concern. The national Republican Party has made it clear that they are looking at rolling back so many hard-won victories for the working men and women of New York.”</p> <p>As he has mostly done over the past two years, Flanagan ignored Trump on Wednesday. Though he did express support for the president-elect around the time of the Republican National Convention, Flanagan has mostly steered away from promoting Trump or his policies.</p> <p><strong>IDC Priorities for 2017</strong><br />On the Senate floor Wednesday, Klein revealed the IDC’s priorities for the coming year, including “Raise the Age,” providing incentives aimed at keeping manufacturing in New York, and an education affordability plan. IDC priorities are often key to budget and legislative negotiations as Senate Republicans have to be willing to allow Klein’s crew space given its role in bolstering the GOP majority.</p> <p>In contrast to the governor’s proposal to provide scholarships to middle- to low-income New Yorkers at public universities, the IDC plan involves the expansion of the state’s tuition assistance program, raising income eligibility limits from $80,000 to $200,000, and making funding available to all, including undocumented immigrant students.</p> <p>In its agenda for 2017, the group also proposed $11.1 million in funding for immigrant legal services, and the creation of a Home Stability Support program in New York City, which would help keep homeless or near-homeless people in permanent housing.</p> <p><strong>New Members Sworn In</strong><br />Several new lawmakers were sworn in this week. The Senate Democrats welcomed Jamaal Bailey from Senate District 36, which includes Mount Vernon and parts of the Bronx, and John Brooks from Senate District 8 on Long Island. On the Republican side, new members include Christopher L. Jacobs of Erie County; Elaine Phillips of Long Island; former Assemblymember James Tedisco, representing Fulton and Hamilton counties and parts of Herkimer, Schenectady and Saratoga; and Ontario County’s Pam Helming.</p> <p>The 150-seat Assembly welcomed 18 new members in January, including several Democrats from the New York City area. Tremaine Wright now represents the 65th Assembly, representing Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, and Bobby Carroll, Brooklyn’s 44th District.</p> <p>From Lower Manhattan, Yuh-Line Niou accepted her 65th Assembly District seat, which had been occupied by former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver from 1977 to 2016. After losing to Silver ally Alice Cancel in a special election last year, Niou unseated the short-term incumbent by a narrow margin in a crowded field, becoming the first Asian-American to represent Chinatown or any part of Manhattan in the state Legislature.</p> <p>Brian Barnwell accepted the 30th Assembly District seat, Clyde Vanel assumed his seat representing the 33rd District, and Stacey C. Pheffer Amato assumed her 23rd Assembly District seat, all in Queens. Pheffer’s mother, Queens County Clerk Audrey Pheffer, previously held the same Assembly seat, making them the first mother and daughter to hold the same seat in the New York State Legislature.</p> <p>Representing parts of Upper Manhattan, former City Council Member from Harlem Inez Dickens took Keith Wright’s vacated 70th District seat, and Carmen De La Rosa, former chief of staff to City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, assumed the 72nd District seat.</p> <p>The Legislature is gone from Albany until next week, when session will resume Monday and Tuesday, just as Cuomo tours the state Monday through Wednesday to give six State of the State addresses.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18535307844_847c491fe0_z_1.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="cuomo heastie flanagan" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan</p> <hr /> <p>Several themes loomed as the New York State Legislature held its first day of its new session on Wednesday in Albany. The 2017 legislative calendar, and with it the 2017-2018 Legislature, began oaths of office and speeches by party leaders in both the state Senate and Assembly. The tone was set, priorities were announced or reaffirmed, tensions were evident, and the jog toward the next state budget -- due by April 1 -- began.</p> <p>The most important remarks were delivered by the two majority leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, and Senate President John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, who laid out their respective agendas for the coming year. Importantly, Flanagan in particular made clear that the Legislature has bones to pick with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was not in Albany Wednesday, but in New York City, where he was making yet another infrastructure announcement, the second plank of his 2017 State of the State Agenda.</p> <p>The prologue to Wednesday was a set of late 2016 dynamics that set the stage for what could be a volatile 2017: fraught negotiations between state lawmakers and Cuomo over a potential pay increase and special legislative session; the November election of President-elect Donald Trump; and news that the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) -- a breakaway group of Senate Democrats -- would continue to caucus with Republicans, who maintained their own slim majority in the chamber thanks to the elections and Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who caucuses with the GOP.</p> <p>On specific policy matters, higher education affordability became a central issue of the first session day following Cuomo’s surprise Tuesday announcement of a proposal to make public college tuition-free for students from New York families earning less than $125,000 per year. Cuomo launched the Excelsior Scholarship plan -- his first State of the State proposal -- in Queens with former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, garnering national headlines, and forcing legislators to respond. Many want to know more about the potential costs and funding plan -- Cuomo’s Executive Budget is due by January 17.</p> <p><strong>Leaders and Priorities</strong><br />In his opening remarks on the Assembly floor, Heastie, who was re-elected Speaker with 99 votes, over 41 for Minority Leader Brian Kolb, emphasized the importance of investing in education, such as fulfilling the state’s campaign for fiscal equity obligation, expanding President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, and the passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide college tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. “The sad truth is that public education is under attack across the country like never before,” Heastie said.</p> <p>Heastie hailed Cuomo’s plan to make city and state colleges tuition-free for middle- and low-income New Yorkers, noting that the Assembly had been pushing a similar education bill.</p> <p>“For those of you that have been here for some time, you know that the idea of college affordability started right here in this house,” said Heastie of the Assembly. “I am encouraged that the governor is making this a priority, and we look forward to working with him and the Senate to help make this a reality.”</p> <p>The Assembly speaker also focused on criminal justice reform, climate change, the importance of codifying Roe vs. Wade into New York law under a Trump administration, updating transportation options in Upstate New York, and New York City’s affordable housing crisis.</p> <p>Meanwhile, is it often is, the mood was more tense on the Senate floor. Flanagan won re-election as Senate president with 32 out of 63 votes, emblematic of the GOP’s slim majority.</p> <p>Mainline Democrats, still raw from the election results and caucus decisions by Felder and the seven-member IDC, addressed their Democratic colleagues bluntly and pushed back on two measures proposed by the majority, which they said were aimed at curtailing transparency in Senate proceedings. There was even a movement to make Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins temporary Senate president.</p> <p>Harsh criticism of Felder and the IDC continued from fellow Democrats and progressive groups, who argue that a unified Democratic Party is necessary to form a bulwark against the incoming federal administration.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, made the case for electing Stewart-Cousins as temporary president, noting her long record of accomplishments and her distinction as the first female state legislative leader in either chamber. “I ask my colleagues to consider making history today, and she already has done so by being the first female legislative leader in New York State,” Gianaris said. “Today, we have the opportunity to make her the first female majority leader in either chamber.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins called for unity among Democrats in her opening remarks. “I look at a chamber of 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans, yet once again we are denied our rightful place leading the Senate,” she said. “Democrats must be true to their values especially in the atmosphere we are going to be facing. Democrats should be united!”</p> <p>In other telling signs of Senate dynamics, IDC Deputy Leader David Valesky moved to nominate IDC Leader Jeff Klein as temporary president, and Republican Senator John DeFrancisco, in his endorsement of Flanagan for the role, compared Flanagan to Stewart-Cousins, saying that under the Republican lawmaker’s leadership, more women than ever have been brought into the Senate.</p> <p><strong>Transparency Attack</strong><br />Gianaris also took several jabs at the IDC as he peppered Senate Ethics Committee Chair Thomas D. Croci with questions over a proposed amendment that would have an equal number from each of the two major political parties appointed to the committee. Gianaris questioned how the bipartisan committee would be selected when IDC members have aligned themselves with Republicans.</p> <p>“Will the minority leader get to appoint the same amount as the majority coalition? Or is the language somehow imbalanced?” said Gianaris.</p> <p>Croci, a Republican from Long Island, responded that the committee would be split equally by party affiliation and that the rule was intended to clarify the role of the committee as it relates to a similar committee in the Assembly chamber.</p> <p>“There was some confusion last year about the role of our committee and that of the committee in the Assembly. What we are trying to do is create parity with the Assembly chamber,” Croci said, adding that “some things should transcend politics.”</p> <p>In another testy exchange, Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, challenged DeFrancisco on a resolution to ban cell phone usage on the Senate chamber floor (the ban would include prohibition on taking photos or filming without explicit permission, thus limiting members of the media from doing their jobs). DeFrancisco maintained that filming “upset the decorum in the chamber,” while Hoylman repeatedly challenged DeFrancisco to cite an example in which cell phone usage disrupted proceedings and called it infringement on free speech rights.</p> <p>Senator Felder stood up and started filming the exchange, prompting applause, and several legislators walked out, muttering things like “I can’t listen to this.” Senate Democratic Communications Director Mike Murphy slammed the “Trump-style” resolution, noting its similarities to a bill passed in Washington penalizing lawmakers who film or take photos on the U.S. Senate floor, <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/312578-house-gop-passes-rules-aimed-at-preventing-lawmaker-sit-ins-protests" target="_blank">which moved</a> after a Democratic sit-in over gun regulation.</p> <p>“Under the Republicans, the State Senate has repeatedly rushed important votes through in the middle of the night, away from public scrutiny,” Murphy said. “This new rule will continue the GOP pattern of avoiding transparency and concealing their actions from New Yorkers. The people have a right to know what is happening in their Senate Chamber.” The resolution was passed by voice vote.</p> <p>In her remarks, Stewart-Cousins laid out a wide-ranging progressive agenda for the coming year including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility and expanding universal pre-kindergarten. She addressed Klein and Flanagan directly, saying, “Senator Flanagan and Senator Klein, the Democratic Conference stands ready to work with you when we agree and we will not be shy when we disagree.”</p> <p>Flanagan, in a somewhat more casual speech, emphasized economic development and job creation as way to address some of the social and economic policy issues raised by Stewart-Cousins. He also made a point to praise the Assembly speaker, calling Heastie a “gentleman” and a “class act.”</p> <p>Flanagan suggested that fed-up lawmakers step up their pressure on Cuomo this year, urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils. Cuomo’s record on job creation and use of government subsidies has been questioned, including with regard to a major corruption scandal in the governor’s signature economic development program.</p> <p>“It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.”</p> <p>The majority leader vowed to “stand up for the independence of this body,” suggesting that the Senate may act as a greater check on the governor’s power in the coming year. He was met with a standing applause.</p> <p><strong>Resisting A Trump Administration</strong><br />The uncertainty surrounding President-elect Donald Trump -- particularly his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, a move that could <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20161109/POLITICS/161109829/trump-presidency-may-jeopardize-the-health-coverage-of-2-8-million-new-yorkers" target="_blank">jeopardize insurance coverage</a> for 2.8 million New Yorkers -- loomed in both chambers, and both Democratic leaders vowed resistance to the incoming administration.</p> <p>“Last November’s election taught us many lessons. Among them, that the road to progress is never easy. But I promise New Yorkers that the Assembly Majority will never allow this state to go backward,” said Heastie.</p> <p>In the Senate, Stewart-Cousins said, “Many in this great progressive state of New York look to Washington and the new Trump administration with grave concern. The national Republican Party has made it clear that they are looking at rolling back so many hard-won victories for the working men and women of New York.”</p> <p>As he has mostly done over the past two years, Flanagan ignored Trump on Wednesday. Though he did express support for the president-elect around the time of the Republican National Convention, Flanagan has mostly steered away from promoting Trump or his policies.</p> <p><strong>IDC Priorities for 2017</strong><br />On the Senate floor Wednesday, Klein revealed the IDC’s priorities for the coming year, including “Raise the Age,” providing incentives aimed at keeping manufacturing in New York, and an education affordability plan. IDC priorities are often key to budget and legislative negotiations as Senate Republicans have to be willing to allow Klein’s crew space given its role in bolstering the GOP majority.</p> <p>In contrast to the governor’s proposal to provide scholarships to middle- to low-income New Yorkers at public universities, the IDC plan involves the expansion of the state’s tuition assistance program, raising income eligibility limits from $80,000 to $200,000, and making funding available to all, including undocumented immigrant students.</p> <p>In its agenda for 2017, the group also proposed $11.1 million in funding for immigrant legal services, and the creation of a Home Stability Support program in New York City, which would help keep homeless or near-homeless people in permanent housing.</p> <p><strong>New Members Sworn In</strong><br />Several new lawmakers were sworn in this week. The Senate Democrats welcomed Jamaal Bailey from Senate District 36, which includes Mount Vernon and parts of the Bronx, and John Brooks from Senate District 8 on Long Island. On the Republican side, new members include Christopher L. Jacobs of Erie County; Elaine Phillips of Long Island; former Assemblymember James Tedisco, representing Fulton and Hamilton counties and parts of Herkimer, Schenectady and Saratoga; and Ontario County’s Pam Helming.</p> <p>The 150-seat Assembly welcomed 18 new members in January, including several Democrats from the New York City area. Tremaine Wright now represents the 65th Assembly, representing Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, and Bobby Carroll, Brooklyn’s 44th District.</p> <p>From Lower Manhattan, Yuh-Line Niou accepted her 65th Assembly District seat, which had been occupied by former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver from 1977 to 2016. After losing to Silver ally Alice Cancel in a special election last year, Niou unseated the short-term incumbent by a narrow margin in a crowded field, becoming the first Asian-American to represent Chinatown or any part of Manhattan in the state Legislature.</p> <p>Brian Barnwell accepted the 30th Assembly District seat, Clyde Vanel assumed his seat representing the 33rd District, and Stacey C. Pheffer Amato assumed her 23rd Assembly District seat, all in Queens. Pheffer’s mother, Queens County Clerk Audrey Pheffer, previously held the same Assembly seat, making them the first mother and daughter to hold the same seat in the New York State Legislature.</p> <p>Representing parts of Upper Manhattan, former City Council Member from Harlem Inez Dickens took Keith Wright’s vacated 70th District seat, and Carmen De La Rosa, former chief of staff to City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, assumed the 72nd District seat.</p> <p>The Legislature is gone from Albany until next week, when session will resume Monday and Tuesday, just as Cuomo tours the state Monday through Wednesday to give six State of the State addresses.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
New York Becomes 17th State to Call for Constitutional Overturn of Citizens United 2016-06-16T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6400:new-york-becomes-17th-state-to-call-for-constitutional-overturn-of-citizens-united Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/squadron_et_al_demand_democracy.jpg" width="600" height="450" alt="squadron et al demand democracy" /></p> <p>Sen. Squadron and "Demand Democracy" ralliers (photo: @DanielSquadron)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Amid increasing calls for New York to pass bold government ethics reform and minimize the role of money in elections, a bipartisan majority of state lawmakers has taken a symbolic but somewhat significant step in calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case.</p> <p dir="ltr">In <em>Citizens United&nbsp;v. Federal Election Commission</em>, the Supreme Court ruled&nbsp;that corporations and unions can be considered individuals as far as their political contributions are concerned and that restricting their ability to donate to candidates amounted to a violation of their First Amendment right of free speech. That decision opened the floodgates to unlimited amounts of money in elections, including through outside groups supportive of candidates that must not coordinate with official campaigns but can raise and spend unlimited sums. Nearly 80 percent of Americans <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-28/bloomberg-poll-americans-want-supreme-court-to-turn-off-political-spending-spigot" target="_blank">agree that</a> the decision needs to be overturned. As of Wednesday, so do 76 New York State Assembly members (of 150 seats) and 32 State Senators (of 63 seats), a bare majority in each house.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lawmakers and advocates announced at a news conference at the Capitol Building in Albany on Wednesday that a majority of members had signed letters to Congress calling for an amendment. The declaration came barely a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6384-cuomo-launches-end-of-session-addition-to-stagnant-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">proposed legislation</a> to blunt the effects of Citizens United. In his announcement, the governor called the decision of the Supreme Court’s worst and said, “This decision ignited the equivalent of a campaign nuclear arms race and created a shadow industry in New York — maligning the integrity of the electoral process and drowning out the voice of the people. Citizens United must be reversed.” This week, he said one of his six priorities for the remaining legislative session is moving forward with his legislation to combat Citizens United that further restricts coordination between candidates and supportive “independent” committees, known as Super PACs.</p> <p dir="ltr">New York is the first state with a Republican-controlled chamber to call for an amendment, though only two Republicans supported it. (The last vote that gave the Senate effort a majority came from Democratic Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who was recently elected to the chamber, replacing Republican Dean Skelos, who was removed from office upon a felony corruption conviction.) New York now joins the ranks of 16 other states which have done so through resolutions and ballot initiatives. More than 700 municipalities across the country have also passed resolutions, including 21 in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Wednesday, Assemblymember James Brennan, who led the effort in his chamber, said in a statement, “When we think about the intent behind campaign finance laws, they are supposed to protect our democracy from corruption while preserving the integrity of our elections. Citizens United has done the opposite. By allowing corporations the same rights as individuals, campaigns across the country are being fueled by obscene amounts of money. This has to stop. I call on Congress to do the right thing and pass a constitutional amendment to right this wrong.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In the Senate, there were four letters with largely the same language. Twenty-four Democrats signed one letter. The five-member Independent Democratic Conference signed the same letter, albeit separately. Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins signed one independently. The Republicans, Sen. Phil Boyle and Sen. Kemp Hannon, signed their own version with slightly different language.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There is motion now in Republican-controlled legislatures to support an amendment,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen, a nonprofit group that led a coalition of advocates calling on state lawmakers to support an amendment. “The state legislature also needs to follow through and pass state reform,” he added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lawmakers more than agree. “It’s great news that a bipartisan majority of State Senators and Assemblymembers support closing the corporate contribution floodgate Citizens United opened,” said Senator Daniel Squadron, in an emailed statement. Squadron led his colleagues in the Democrats’ letter. “It's critical that legislation also move forward to show New York’s strong support for the voice of everyday Americans in the political process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Squadron has been one of the leading proponents for closing New York’s infamous “LLC loophole,” which ostensibly allows wealthy individuals and corporations to give unlimited funds to political candidate campaigns through a variety of limited liability companies. Cuomo, a Democrat, has called for closing the loophole and Assembly Democrats have passed such a measure - but the Republican-controlled Senate has balked, defeating the efforts of Squadron and his allies. Good government groups have been calling for closure of the LLC loophole for years, along with a slew of other government ethics and campaign finance reforms in New York, most of which have gone nowhere.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Boyle, a Long Island Republican, echoed the call for reform in the final legislative package of the year, insisting that his Republican colleagues were equally concerned about the influence of big money on elections both at the state and national level. He said it was important that the same restrictions on campaign contributions apply to corporations, unions, and individuals, hitting one of the key sticking points for Republicans: that unions are treated similarly to corporations. Boyle recognizes that signing a letter to Congress is a symbolic move, but one that can have a strong impact. “I think it’s going to energize the debate and hopefully draw the attentions of our federal legislators,” he said in a phone interview. “As much pressure on Washington D.C. as we can exert, the better.”</p> <p>Sen. Stewart-Cousins was also encouraged by two Republicans signing on to the petition and called for additional action on legislative reform. “Addressing the negative impact that the Citizens United decision has had on our democracy is important,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “but also we must take action to fix our own glaring campaign finance and ethics issues in New York State such as closing the LLC Loophole which also allows special interests to contribute endless amounts of money. The people of New York deserve an electoral system and government that they can trust.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/squadron_et_al_demand_democracy.jpg" width="600" height="450" alt="squadron et al demand democracy" /></p> <p>Sen. Squadron and "Demand Democracy" ralliers (photo: @DanielSquadron)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Amid increasing calls for New York to pass bold government ethics reform and minimize the role of money in elections, a bipartisan majority of state lawmakers has taken a symbolic but somewhat significant step in calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case.</p> <p dir="ltr">In <em>Citizens United&nbsp;v. Federal Election Commission</em>, the Supreme Court ruled&nbsp;that corporations and unions can be considered individuals as far as their political contributions are concerned and that restricting their ability to donate to candidates amounted to a violation of their First Amendment right of free speech. That decision opened the floodgates to unlimited amounts of money in elections, including through outside groups supportive of candidates that must not coordinate with official campaigns but can raise and spend unlimited sums. Nearly 80 percent of Americans <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-28/bloomberg-poll-americans-want-supreme-court-to-turn-off-political-spending-spigot" target="_blank">agree that</a> the decision needs to be overturned. As of Wednesday, so do 76 New York State Assembly members (of 150 seats) and 32 State Senators (of 63 seats), a bare majority in each house.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lawmakers and advocates announced at a news conference at the Capitol Building in Albany on Wednesday that a majority of members had signed letters to Congress calling for an amendment. The declaration came barely a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6384-cuomo-launches-end-of-session-addition-to-stagnant-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">proposed legislation</a> to blunt the effects of Citizens United. In his announcement, the governor called the decision of the Supreme Court’s worst and said, “This decision ignited the equivalent of a campaign nuclear arms race and created a shadow industry in New York — maligning the integrity of the electoral process and drowning out the voice of the people. Citizens United must be reversed.” This week, he said one of his six priorities for the remaining legislative session is moving forward with his legislation to combat Citizens United that further restricts coordination between candidates and supportive “independent” committees, known as Super PACs.</p> <p dir="ltr">New York is the first state with a Republican-controlled chamber to call for an amendment, though only two Republicans supported it. (The last vote that gave the Senate effort a majority came from Democratic Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who was recently elected to the chamber, replacing Republican Dean Skelos, who was removed from office upon a felony corruption conviction.) New York now joins the ranks of 16 other states which have done so through resolutions and ballot initiatives. More than 700 municipalities across the country have also passed resolutions, including 21 in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Wednesday, Assemblymember James Brennan, who led the effort in his chamber, said in a statement, “When we think about the intent behind campaign finance laws, they are supposed to protect our democracy from corruption while preserving the integrity of our elections. Citizens United has done the opposite. By allowing corporations the same rights as individuals, campaigns across the country are being fueled by obscene amounts of money. This has to stop. I call on Congress to do the right thing and pass a constitutional amendment to right this wrong.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In the Senate, there were four letters with largely the same language. Twenty-four Democrats signed one letter. The five-member Independent Democratic Conference signed the same letter, albeit separately. Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins signed one independently. The Republicans, Sen. Phil Boyle and Sen. Kemp Hannon, signed their own version with slightly different language.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There is motion now in Republican-controlled legislatures to support an amendment,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen, a nonprofit group that led a coalition of advocates calling on state lawmakers to support an amendment. “The state legislature also needs to follow through and pass state reform,” he added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lawmakers more than agree. “It’s great news that a bipartisan majority of State Senators and Assemblymembers support closing the corporate contribution floodgate Citizens United opened,” said Senator Daniel Squadron, in an emailed statement. Squadron led his colleagues in the Democrats’ letter. “It's critical that legislation also move forward to show New York’s strong support for the voice of everyday Americans in the political process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Squadron has been one of the leading proponents for closing New York’s infamous “LLC loophole,” which ostensibly allows wealthy individuals and corporations to give unlimited funds to political candidate campaigns through a variety of limited liability companies. Cuomo, a Democrat, has called for closing the loophole and Assembly Democrats have passed such a measure - but the Republican-controlled Senate has balked, defeating the efforts of Squadron and his allies. Good government groups have been calling for closure of the LLC loophole for years, along with a slew of other government ethics and campaign finance reforms in New York, most of which have gone nowhere.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Boyle, a Long Island Republican, echoed the call for reform in the final legislative package of the year, insisting that his Republican colleagues were equally concerned about the influence of big money on elections both at the state and national level. He said it was important that the same restrictions on campaign contributions apply to corporations, unions, and individuals, hitting one of the key sticking points for Republicans: that unions are treated similarly to corporations. Boyle recognizes that signing a letter to Congress is a symbolic move, but one that can have a strong impact. “I think it’s going to energize the debate and hopefully draw the attentions of our federal legislators,” he said in a phone interview. “As much pressure on Washington D.C. as we can exert, the better.”</p> <p>Sen. Stewart-Cousins was also encouraged by two Republicans signing on to the petition and called for additional action on legislative reform. “Addressing the negative impact that the Citizens United decision has had on our democracy is important,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “but also we must take action to fix our own glaring campaign finance and ethics issues in New York State such as closing the LLC Loophole which also allows special interests to contribute endless amounts of money. The people of New York deserve an electoral system and government that they can trust.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Lobbying, in Albany, for Better Voting Laws 2016-05-08T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6323:lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/vote_better_ny_dalton_political_nyc_votes.jpg" width="600" height="339" alt="vote better ny dalton political nyc votes" /></p> <p>Students in Albany to lobby for voting and registration reform (#VoteBetterNY)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Before dawn on a cold and rainy May morning, about 175 New Yorkers gathered outside a building on Church Street, waiting to board a bus to Albany. Some had left their Staten Island and Queens homes as early as 4 a.m. to make departure on time, others had taken the day off work or school, all were there for the same reason: to meet with state lawmakers and convince them to modernize New York’s antiquated election laws.</p> <p dir="ltr">Four buses pulled into the state capital a few hours later and members of the<a href="http://www.votebetterny.org/"> Vote Better NY coalition</a> lined up on the stairs of West Capitol Park, behind the New York State Capitol Building, for a rally calling for passage of legislation to enact early voting, automatic voter registration, and better ballot design. These reforms, advocates say, would help to increase New York’s dismal voter turnout by making it far easier for New Yorkers to register to vote and to cast their ballots. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The May 3 trip to Albany, the rally, and the 74 meetings with legislators and the governor’s office scheduled for the day were organized by NYC Votes, the non-partisan voter engagement campaign of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Tuesday marked the third annual NYC Votes lobby day, wherein New York City residents head north to Albany by the busload to push for voting reform, and the delegation has nearly doubled in size since last year when about 100 people attended, up from about 50 the first year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We still vote like it’s the 19th century and voters are sick and tired of election laws designed to benefit elected officials, rather than the voters,” said Onida Coward Mayers, director of voter assistance at NYC Votes.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You know how they say, ‘there’s an app for that’? Well, there’s an act for that,” Mayers said, referring to the<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass"> Voter Empowerment Act</a>, a voting reform bill package that would expand online registration, allow certain government agencies to automatically register citizens to vote, extend party change and registration deadlines, and permit pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. “Voters in 37 other states have early voting,” Mayers added, “Why not New York?”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Vote Better NY coalition was joined for its rally by two state Assembly members and four state Senators, all of whom have either introduced or sponsored voting reform bills supported by the coalition, some of which have passed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly for years, only to die every time in the Republican-led Senate. The exclusively Democratic group of lawmakers present at the rally made their support for voting reform clear as ever, and repeatedly expressed exasperation at the lack of support for such reforms from their colleagues “across the aisle,” creating a situation where those who profess their support for voting reform offload all of the blame for the lack of movement on the reforms onto those who do not support the legislation.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We get it, we are sponsoring these bills, we have been trying to get [reform] through for years,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “The last time we were able to do something significant [on voting reform] was when Democrats had the [Senate] majority.”</p> <p dir="ltr">There has been record turnout in nearly every state that has voted in primary elections so far in the presidential race, Senator Michael Gianaris said, except New York. The Empire State has the<a href="http://www.electproject.org/2016P"> second lowest turnout rate</a> of any state so far this year, with just 19.7 percent of the voting eligible population casting a ballot. “All these other states, where they’ve enacted these reforms, have record turnout. The answers are simple, they’re staring us in the face,” Gianaris said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Why is it so hard to do something that should be so easy?” Gianaris asked, referring to getting these “common-sense” voting reforms passed. “Because there’s a lot of people in that building who want fewer people to vote because it benefits them winning,” Gianaris said, gesturing toward the collection of government buildings in the Empire State Plaza.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it’s true that many Senate Republicans either don’t support or outright oppose many of the voting reform bills that have been introduced time and again in Albany, as Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman said when pressed to specify who was “standing in the way” of these reforms becoming law, “It’s important that everyone here get the Senators and Assembly members on the record as to whether they oppose or support extending the franchise…We can go to each Senator, Republican and Democrat, and ask them to cosponsor these bills.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kavanagh_voter_better_ny.jpg" width="300" height="264" alt="kavanagh voter better ny" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" />After the rally, members of the Vote Better NY coalition set out to change the minds of those not on board themselves, breaking off into groups of six or seven and heading into the labyrinth of the Legislative Office Building to meet with lawmakers. They were armed with messages of enfranchisement and efficiency, and checklists of legislators who have said they support early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act.</p> <p dir="ltr">One group, made up of three members of the New York City Campaign Finance Board and three representatives from DYCD NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers, had their first meeting of the day with Senator Jeff Klein’s office. The meeting apparently went well, though Gotham Gazette can’t say for sure, as Dan Levin, assistant counsel to Klein, said their office “doesn’t do meetings with reporters,” and asked this reporter to wait outside, despite offers not to take any notes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Members of the voting reform group expressed frustration with the fact that, though Klein’s counsel said the Senator is supportive of the voting reform bills, as leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, Klein could do more to get Senate Republicans to support such reforms. The IDC and Senate Republicans have a power-sharing agreement that gives the five-member IDC more sway than mainline Democrats, who are led by Stewart-Cousins. Klein has not signed on as a sponsor of any Vote Better NY bills.</p> <p dir="ltr">After the meeting with Levin, the group left Klein’s office, heading toward a newly-booked meeting with Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They call this ‘the million dollar staircase,’” one aide from Klein’s office quipped as she walked past the group, “because they say it cost a million dollars.” The inside of the connected government buildings that spanned the Empire State Plaza are more ornate than their gray exteriors with dark, thin windows, let on - white marble spans the majority of the interior, the "million dollar staircase" that actually<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/10/nyregion/a-tour-of-the-new-york-state-capitol.html?_r=0"> ran over</a> its million dollar budget, a part of a wall in the central hall with water cascading down it, a McDonald’s, and a Dunkin Donuts all inside the building’s winding halls.</p> <p dir="ltr">After waiting just long enough for members of the group to become bored enough to flip through a copy of the New York Post lying on Lanza’s waiting room table in search of the tabloid’s Met Gala photos, the group’s captain and the CFB’s public affairs officer, Amanda Melillo, was told that Lanza would be free later on, and to come back any time. (When the group returned about an hour later, Melillo was told that the senator was busy and instructed to leave some material for Lanza to read).</p> <p dir="ltr">The group wound back through the halls, stairs, elevators, and escalators of the disorienting Legislative Office Building and its connecting tunnels to their next meeting, with Senator Simcha Felder. The Brooklyn senator is perhaps the most important person determining the upper house’s balance of power - he’s elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans, and has recently created a 32-member majority in the 63-seat chamber.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Oh, I’m sorry, I was teaching him how to tap dance,” said an aide who stopped striking the floor with her foot and moved to stand behind the main desk in Felder’s waiting room upon the group’s arrival.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the group was scheduled to meet with Felder himself in about ten minutes, with his tap dancing lesson cut short, Robert Farley, senior counsel in the New York State Senate, offered to meet with the group right away instead.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gotham Gazette remained for this meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes. Throughout the discussion, Farley expressed skepticism, disapproval, or outright rejection of every voting reform put forth by the group.</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo and others spoke about the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections">many issues New York City voters</a> encountered during the April 19 primary, including the fact that some 126,000 Democratic voters in Brooklyn had been removed from the voter rolls, and that many New Yorkers had showed up to the polls on election day, only to be told that they were not registered to vote and must sign an affidavit ballot instead.</p> <p dir="ltr">“A lot of people think they’re registered and they’re not,” Farley said, generally dismissing the group’s assertion that many of these people were registered to vote and were unable to cast a regular ballot. The bills at hand would, in part, make it easier to register to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">One member of the group, Rosa Velez, told Farley that she had worked as a poll worker on several occasions, including during New York’s most recent primary, said she “had so many people cursing me out at the primary - it was so stressful, people would walk in and I would just hope their name was on the list.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“One woman who showed up to vote showed me on her phone that she was registered, but her name wasn’t on the list,” Velez added. “I told her she could fill out an affidavit, but she said, “no, f*** this, I’ve been voting for nine years, I want to vote the regular way.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo and Daniel Cho, director of candidate services at the CFB, then brought up online voter registration, and the potential of online and automatic voter registration to increase the number of registered voters and reduce the number of clerical errors made with the current mostly pen-and-paper system.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Every time you do reform, there’s going to be problems,” Farley responded. “I don’t know how much doing another reform actually is going to change the problem, with people not doing their jobs right at the Board of Elections.” Farley added that electronic voter registration has its problems as well, citing the potential for hacking or voter fraud.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m a tech guy, I love technology,” Farley said, gesturing un-ironically to the decade old desktop computers in his office, one of which was displaying bubbles bouncing around the screen. “But tech in and of itself can create more problems.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Resigned, the group brought up New York’s closed primaries and early party change deadlines (New York is the only state where the deadline to change one’s party does not even fall within the same calendar year as the primary). Farley also didn’t believe open primaries or a later party change date would benefit New Yorkers, citing concerns of voters switching parties to game an election by voting against a candidate they didn’t like.</p> <p dir="ltr">When early voting was brought up, Farley said “We do have early voting, we have absentee voting,” and dismissed assertions that absentee voting in New York requires an excuse. “The BOE never checks,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Somewhat dismayed by Farley’s lack of receptiveness to any of the voting reforms Vote Better NY was there to promote, the group headed to meet with Jacob Wilkinson, counsel to Senator David Valesky, a Syracuse-area Democrat. Wilkinson was more open to hearing what members of CFB and DYCD NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers had to say, taking a photo with the group and expressing support for early voting, though he shared some of Farley’s reservations about open primaries. “The restrictions on voting are a little silly and backwards, except open primaries, that’s a different story,” Wilkinson said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Before heading out, the Vote Better NY coalition delivered a<a href="https://www.change.org/p/andrew-cuomo-new-york-state-senate-new-york-state-assembly-vote-better-new-york?recruiter=394849197&amp;utm_source=share_petition&amp;utm_medium=copylink"> petition</a> for reform signed by more than 6,500 New Yorkers to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo says Vote Better NY branched out in terms of the legislators they sought to meet with this year, including more upstate representatives like Valesky.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs at the CFB, was part of the group that met with staff to Flanagan, Cuomo, and Heastie. He said that Flanagan’s staff had expressed reservations similar to those Farley had about passing voting reform - namely, concerns about the cost, whether they would be unfunded mandates, and questions about potential for voter fraud.</p> <p dir="ltr">After meeting with lawmakers, those who had come along with the Vote Better NY coalition boarded their respective buses back to New York City around 4:30 in the afternoon, though the buses didn’t take off till about twenty minutes later, when a man carrying several pizza boxes across West Capitol Park handed the food to Melillo and other NYC Votes members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The voting reform advocates who went to Albany on Tuesday included members of good government groups like NYPIRG and the League of Women Voters, civic engagement groups like Dominicanos USA and Generation Citizen, students, fraternity and sorority chapters, engaged citizens, and other groups like the NAACP and the New York Immigration Coalition.</p> <p dir="ltr">“At the end of the day,” Friedman said on the bus ride back, “you want there to be the same concern for folks who are shut out of the process” as there is for the cost of funding and implementing voting reform bills. “Making sure the election system works for everyone shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The system that we have in place works for the people in power,” Friedman continued, adding that sustained momentum is needed to make more modernized election laws a reality for New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s not enough for lawmakers who say they support voting reform to pass “a one house bill,” Friedman said, the question is, “are you going to make it a priority in that room, are you going to put it on the table?” referring to negotiating rooms.</p> <p dir="ltr">The early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a8582">bill</a> active in the Assembly is sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, and has seven Democratic co-sponsors. Early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s3813/amendment/b">in the Senate</a> is sponsored by Stewart-Cousins and co-sponsored by 16 other Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Empowerment Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a5972">active</a> in the Assembly is sponsored by Kavanagh and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats and one Independence Party member, Fred Thiele. The Voter Empowerment Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s2538/amendment/b" target="_blank">active</a>&nbsp;in the Senate is sponsored by Gianaris and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Friendly Ballot Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a3389">active</a> in the Assembly is sponsored by Kavanagh and co-sponsored by 20 Democrats. The Voter Friendly Ballot Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S7086">active</a> in the Senate is sponsored by Tony Avella, a member of the IDC, and co-sponsored by three mainline Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p>With the most recent budget negotiated, lawmakers are now in the legislative session that runs until the middle of June. The entire state Legislature - 63 Senate and 150 Assembly seats - is up for election in the fall.</p> <p>“The individual legislators need to stand up and support these bills as much as possible,” Friedman concluded as the bus came to a stop outside the CFB’s building on Church Street around 7 p.m.</p> <p>

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to list the accurate sponsorship numbers of the early voting, voter empowerment, and voter friendly ballot acts.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/vote_better_ny_dalton_political_nyc_votes.jpg" width="600" height="339" alt="vote better ny dalton political nyc votes" /></p> <p>Students in Albany to lobby for voting and registration reform (#VoteBetterNY)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Before dawn on a cold and rainy May morning, about 175 New Yorkers gathered outside a building on Church Street, waiting to board a bus to Albany. Some had left their Staten Island and Queens homes as early as 4 a.m. to make departure on time, others had taken the day off work or school, all were there for the same reason: to meet with state lawmakers and convince them to modernize New York’s antiquated election laws.</p> <p dir="ltr">Four buses pulled into the state capital a few hours later and members of the<a href="http://www.votebetterny.org/"> Vote Better NY coalition</a> lined up on the stairs of West Capitol Park, behind the New York State Capitol Building, for a rally calling for passage of legislation to enact early voting, automatic voter registration, and better ballot design. These reforms, advocates say, would help to increase New York’s dismal voter turnout by making it far easier for New Yorkers to register to vote and to cast their ballots. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The May 3 trip to Albany, the rally, and the 74 meetings with legislators and the governor’s office scheduled for the day were organized by NYC Votes, the non-partisan voter engagement campaign of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Tuesday marked the third annual NYC Votes lobby day, wherein New York City residents head north to Albany by the busload to push for voting reform, and the delegation has nearly doubled in size since last year when about 100 people attended, up from about 50 the first year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We still vote like it’s the 19th century and voters are sick and tired of election laws designed to benefit elected officials, rather than the voters,” said Onida Coward Mayers, director of voter assistance at NYC Votes.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You know how they say, ‘there’s an app for that’? Well, there’s an act for that,” Mayers said, referring to the<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass"> Voter Empowerment Act</a>, a voting reform bill package that would expand online registration, allow certain government agencies to automatically register citizens to vote, extend party change and registration deadlines, and permit pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. “Voters in 37 other states have early voting,” Mayers added, “Why not New York?”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Vote Better NY coalition was joined for its rally by two state Assembly members and four state Senators, all of whom have either introduced or sponsored voting reform bills supported by the coalition, some of which have passed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly for years, only to die every time in the Republican-led Senate. The exclusively Democratic group of lawmakers present at the rally made their support for voting reform clear as ever, and repeatedly expressed exasperation at the lack of support for such reforms from their colleagues “across the aisle,” creating a situation where those who profess their support for voting reform offload all of the blame for the lack of movement on the reforms onto those who do not support the legislation.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We get it, we are sponsoring these bills, we have been trying to get [reform] through for years,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “The last time we were able to do something significant [on voting reform] was when Democrats had the [Senate] majority.”</p> <p dir="ltr">There has been record turnout in nearly every state that has voted in primary elections so far in the presidential race, Senator Michael Gianaris said, except New York. The Empire State has the<a href="http://www.electproject.org/2016P"> second lowest turnout rate</a> of any state so far this year, with just 19.7 percent of the voting eligible population casting a ballot. “All these other states, where they’ve enacted these reforms, have record turnout. The answers are simple, they’re staring us in the face,” Gianaris said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Why is it so hard to do something that should be so easy?” Gianaris asked, referring to getting these “common-sense” voting reforms passed. “Because there’s a lot of people in that building who want fewer people to vote because it benefits them winning,” Gianaris said, gesturing toward the collection of government buildings in the Empire State Plaza.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it’s true that many Senate Republicans either don’t support or outright oppose many of the voting reform bills that have been introduced time and again in Albany, as Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman said when pressed to specify who was “standing in the way” of these reforms becoming law, “It’s important that everyone here get the Senators and Assembly members on the record as to whether they oppose or support extending the franchise…We can go to each Senator, Republican and Democrat, and ask them to cosponsor these bills.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kavanagh_voter_better_ny.jpg" width="300" height="264" alt="kavanagh voter better ny" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" />After the rally, members of the Vote Better NY coalition set out to change the minds of those not on board themselves, breaking off into groups of six or seven and heading into the labyrinth of the Legislative Office Building to meet with lawmakers. They were armed with messages of enfranchisement and efficiency, and checklists of legislators who have said they support early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act.</p> <p dir="ltr">One group, made up of three members of the New York City Campaign Finance Board and three representatives from DYCD NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers, had their first meeting of the day with Senator Jeff Klein’s office. The meeting apparently went well, though Gotham Gazette can’t say for sure, as Dan Levin, assistant counsel to Klein, said their office “doesn’t do meetings with reporters,” and asked this reporter to wait outside, despite offers not to take any notes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Members of the voting reform group expressed frustration with the fact that, though Klein’s counsel said the Senator is supportive of the voting reform bills, as leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, Klein could do more to get Senate Republicans to support such reforms. The IDC and Senate Republicans have a power-sharing agreement that gives the five-member IDC more sway than mainline Democrats, who are led by Stewart-Cousins. Klein has not signed on as a sponsor of any Vote Better NY bills.</p> <p dir="ltr">After the meeting with Levin, the group left Klein’s office, heading toward a newly-booked meeting with Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They call this ‘the million dollar staircase,’” one aide from Klein’s office quipped as she walked past the group, “because they say it cost a million dollars.” The inside of the connected government buildings that spanned the Empire State Plaza are more ornate than their gray exteriors with dark, thin windows, let on - white marble spans the majority of the interior, the "million dollar staircase" that actually<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/10/nyregion/a-tour-of-the-new-york-state-capitol.html?_r=0"> ran over</a> its million dollar budget, a part of a wall in the central hall with water cascading down it, a McDonald’s, and a Dunkin Donuts all inside the building’s winding halls.</p> <p dir="ltr">After waiting just long enough for members of the group to become bored enough to flip through a copy of the New York Post lying on Lanza’s waiting room table in search of the tabloid’s Met Gala photos, the group’s captain and the CFB’s public affairs officer, Amanda Melillo, was told that Lanza would be free later on, and to come back any time. (When the group returned about an hour later, Melillo was told that the senator was busy and instructed to leave some material for Lanza to read).</p> <p dir="ltr">The group wound back through the halls, stairs, elevators, and escalators of the disorienting Legislative Office Building and its connecting tunnels to their next meeting, with Senator Simcha Felder. The Brooklyn senator is perhaps the most important person determining the upper house’s balance of power - he’s elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans, and has recently created a 32-member majority in the 63-seat chamber.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Oh, I’m sorry, I was teaching him how to tap dance,” said an aide who stopped striking the floor with her foot and moved to stand behind the main desk in Felder’s waiting room upon the group’s arrival.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the group was scheduled to meet with Felder himself in about ten minutes, with his tap dancing lesson cut short, Robert Farley, senior counsel in the New York State Senate, offered to meet with the group right away instead.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gotham Gazette remained for this meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes. Throughout the discussion, Farley expressed skepticism, disapproval, or outright rejection of every voting reform put forth by the group.</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo and others spoke about the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections">many issues New York City voters</a> encountered during the April 19 primary, including the fact that some 126,000 Democratic voters in Brooklyn had been removed from the voter rolls, and that many New Yorkers had showed up to the polls on election day, only to be told that they were not registered to vote and must sign an affidavit ballot instead.</p> <p dir="ltr">“A lot of people think they’re registered and they’re not,” Farley said, generally dismissing the group’s assertion that many of these people were registered to vote and were unable to cast a regular ballot. The bills at hand would, in part, make it easier to register to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">One member of the group, Rosa Velez, told Farley that she had worked as a poll worker on several occasions, including during New York’s most recent primary, said she “had so many people cursing me out at the primary - it was so stressful, people would walk in and I would just hope their name was on the list.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“One woman who showed up to vote showed me on her phone that she was registered, but her name wasn’t on the list,” Velez added. “I told her she could fill out an affidavit, but she said, “no, f*** this, I’ve been voting for nine years, I want to vote the regular way.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo and Daniel Cho, director of candidate services at the CFB, then brought up online voter registration, and the potential of online and automatic voter registration to increase the number of registered voters and reduce the number of clerical errors made with the current mostly pen-and-paper system.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Every time you do reform, there’s going to be problems,” Farley responded. “I don’t know how much doing another reform actually is going to change the problem, with people not doing their jobs right at the Board of Elections.” Farley added that electronic voter registration has its problems as well, citing the potential for hacking or voter fraud.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m a tech guy, I love technology,” Farley said, gesturing un-ironically to the decade old desktop computers in his office, one of which was displaying bubbles bouncing around the screen. “But tech in and of itself can create more problems.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Resigned, the group brought up New York’s closed primaries and early party change deadlines (New York is the only state where the deadline to change one’s party does not even fall within the same calendar year as the primary). Farley also didn’t believe open primaries or a later party change date would benefit New Yorkers, citing concerns of voters switching parties to game an election by voting against a candidate they didn’t like.</p> <p dir="ltr">When early voting was brought up, Farley said “We do have early voting, we have absentee voting,” and dismissed assertions that absentee voting in New York requires an excuse. “The BOE never checks,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Somewhat dismayed by Farley’s lack of receptiveness to any of the voting reforms Vote Better NY was there to promote, the group headed to meet with Jacob Wilkinson, counsel to Senator David Valesky, a Syracuse-area Democrat. Wilkinson was more open to hearing what members of CFB and DYCD NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers had to say, taking a photo with the group and expressing support for early voting, though he shared some of Farley’s reservations about open primaries. “The restrictions on voting are a little silly and backwards, except open primaries, that’s a different story,” Wilkinson said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Before heading out, the Vote Better NY coalition delivered a<a href="https://www.change.org/p/andrew-cuomo-new-york-state-senate-new-york-state-assembly-vote-better-new-york?recruiter=394849197&amp;utm_source=share_petition&amp;utm_medium=copylink"> petition</a> for reform signed by more than 6,500 New Yorkers to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo says Vote Better NY branched out in terms of the legislators they sought to meet with this year, including more upstate representatives like Valesky.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs at the CFB, was part of the group that met with staff to Flanagan, Cuomo, and Heastie. He said that Flanagan’s staff had expressed reservations similar to those Farley had about passing voting reform - namely, concerns about the cost, whether they would be unfunded mandates, and questions about potential for voter fraud.</p> <p dir="ltr">After meeting with lawmakers, those who had come along with the Vote Better NY coalition boarded their respective buses back to New York City around 4:30 in the afternoon, though the buses didn’t take off till about twenty minutes later, when a man carrying several pizza boxes across West Capitol Park handed the food to Melillo and other NYC Votes members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The voting reform advocates who went to Albany on Tuesday included members of good government groups like NYPIRG and the League of Women Voters, civic engagement groups like Dominicanos USA and Generation Citizen, students, fraternity and sorority chapters, engaged citizens, and other groups like the NAACP and the New York Immigration Coalition.</p> <p dir="ltr">“At the end of the day,” Friedman said on the bus ride back, “you want there to be the same concern for folks who are shut out of the process” as there is for the cost of funding and implementing voting reform bills. “Making sure the election system works for everyone shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The system that we have in place works for the people in power,” Friedman continued, adding that sustained momentum is needed to make more modernized election laws a reality for New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s not enough for lawmakers who say they support voting reform to pass “a one house bill,” Friedman said, the question is, “are you going to make it a priority in that room, are you going to put it on the table?” referring to negotiating rooms.</p> <p dir="ltr">The early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a8582">bill</a> active in the Assembly is sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, and has seven Democratic co-sponsors. Early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s3813/amendment/b">in the Senate</a> is sponsored by Stewart-Cousins and co-sponsored by 16 other Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Empowerment Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a5972">active</a> in the Assembly is sponsored by Kavanagh and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats and one Independence Party member, Fred Thiele. The Voter Empowerment Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s2538/amendment/b" target="_blank">active</a>&nbsp;in the Senate is sponsored by Gianaris and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Friendly Ballot Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a3389">active</a> in the Assembly is sponsored by Kavanagh and co-sponsored by 20 Democrats. The Voter Friendly Ballot Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S7086">active</a> in the Senate is sponsored by Tony Avella, a member of the IDC, and co-sponsored by three mainline Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p>With the most recent budget negotiated, lawmakers are now in the legislative session that runs until the middle of June. The entire state Legislature - 63 Senate and 150 Assembly seats - is up for election in the fall.</p> <p>“The individual legislators need to stand up and support these bills as much as possible,” Friedman concluded as the bus came to a stop outside the CFB’s building on Church Street around 7 p.m.</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to list the accurate sponsorship numbers of the early voting, voter empowerment, and voter friendly ballot acts.</p>
In Albany, Sunshine Week Starts with Darkness 2016-03-15T02:18:44+00:00 2016-03-15T02:18:44+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6223:in-albany-sunshine-week-starts-with-darkness Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/19131688266_b1bf3b40bb_z_1.jpg" alt="heastie cuomo flanagan 2015" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, &amp; Flanagan (l-r) in 2015 (photo via The Governor's Office)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>The first Sunshine Week following the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos got off to an inauspicious start Monday as representatives of the state's major good government groups gathered in Albany to give their evaluation of the ethics reforms put forward in the one-house budgets released by the Assembly and Senate majorities over the weekend.</p> <p>"Unfortunately with a late Friday release what we're seeing is what I've begun to call 'The Albany Shuffle,'" said Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY. "Issues addressed with bills that aren't quite strong enough, that have a low probability of making it into law. What we need now and what we've been saying quite consistently is there is a crisis of corruption, this is the moment for a robust ethics package, and that we need the governor to be asserting his leadership bringing both houses of the Legislature together on a strong comprehensive ethics package."</p> <p>Sunshine Week is supposed to be a celebration and examination of transparency and openness in government. It arrives in Albany this year for one of the most secretive and restrictive budget processes in recent memory. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan have carried out clandestine budget negotiations with an efficiency rarely seen. Usually reporters are tipped to budget meetings, proposals are floated in the press, and press conferences held to update the public on progress. This year the information has largely dried up and Cuomo hasn't held a second floor press conference since late June of last year.</p> <p>"It's as dark a process as I've ever seen," Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>While Cuomo included ethics reforms in his budget he hasn't mentioned reform since without direct provocation by reporters. The Assembly majority released an ethics reform plan on Friday and the Senate majority appears to have no interest in new reforms to prevent or punish corruption, other than a pension forfeiture measure.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration lashed out at good government groups last week after they called on the governor to hold public meetings with legislative leaders on ethics reform. Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Advocates-Cuomo-not-doing-enough-on-ethics-6878498.php" target="_blank">said</a> that there would be further discussion of ethics reform while also looking at who funds good government groups and whether they are actually "shadow lobbyists."</p> <p>Horner said he believes that state leaders are working together to squash reform talk in hopes that public interest wanes. He also believes they are misjudging the impact of the Skelos and Silver convictions. "No public hearings, no public input around the biggest scandals that have rocked Albany in generations, and so it's sort of a stunning rebuke not only for the public's right to know, but also for Sunshine Week that this is what we are talking about - Albany being closed to public scrutiny and what may be a colossal failure by Albany's political establishment to deal with the biggest issues facing state government."</p> <p>On Monday, good government groups didn't have anything to evaluate when it came to the Senate's budget proposal because it does not contain any ethics reform proposals.</p> <p>"This week is Sunshine Week, which is the national celebration of openness in government," said Horner. "In Albany, unfortunately, the curtains are tightly drawn in terms of what the public can see in [government] deliberations."</p> <p>Horner, Lerner, and other government reform group representatives criticized the Assembly plan as having no particular logic. One measure included in the Assembly budget restricts legislators' outside income to 40 percent of a state Supreme Court judge's salary, which comes to about $70,000. Legislators currently earn $79,500 per year. Gov. Cuomo proposed a bill earlier this year restricting outside income to 15 percent of that salary - Cuomo's plan is drawn from the current Congressional model.</p> <p>The Assembly also proposed a law that would restrict lawyer-legislators from simply earning money by having their name at a law firm, requiring them to prove they actually do casework. Horner said that the language of the law is so vague it is hard to tell who would judge what was legitimate work for a law firm and how it would be enforced. Heastie told reporters on Friday that his conference hadn't quite figured out enforcement yet.</p> <p>Lerner and Horner both said they believe that the governor and legislative leaders will play the "blame game" on ethics, without reaching any consensus. Cuomo will blame the Legislature for proposing weaker measures than he did, or for not supporting reform at all, and both houses of the legislature will blame each other.</p> <p>Early Monday rank-and-file lawmakers were boning up on their house budgets as the majorities moved swiftly to vote on the plans. Many expect that a vote on the overall budget could come by the end of the week, delivering an early spending plan - the deadline is the end of the month. However, if that does come to pass many legislators expect contentious issues like ethics reform, a minimum wage hike, and paid family leave to be excluded, pushed to the legislative session to follow the budget.</p> <p>A deal by the end of the week would also mean that the "three men in a room" - Democrats Cuomo and Heastie and Flanagan, a Republican - would have quickly hammered out their differences in typical Albany fashion. Asked on Friday by Gotham Gazette about how many negotiation sessions the three had had, Heastie was evasive, saying there had been meetings, but only on broad strokes. He indicated that specific discussions would heat up once the two chambers passed their one-house budgets. Heastie did give a speech in New York City on Friday and take more than 45 minutes of questions from reporters.</p> <p>Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins criticized the budget process before her house voted on the Republican-crafted, one-house bill. "Today on the first day of Sunshine Week, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this year's budget process has taken a step back in transparency," she said. "The much maligned 'three men in the room' process seems to have been replaced by a more secretive format of covert meetings and phone calls shielded from the press and public. I hope that in the remaining time left we can open up this process and allow all New Yorkers to see what we are doing on their behalf."</p> <p>Assembly Republicans expressed horror that the Democrats' reform plans weren't stronger and didn't address a multitude of gripes they have with how power is allocated in the chamber. Senate Democrats decried the lack of any reforms in the Republican budget. Both majorities said there would be more discussion of ethics - Assembly Democrats say it will come during budget negotiations, Senate Republicans insist it will be after.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/19131688266_b1bf3b40bb_z_1.jpg" alt="heastie cuomo flanagan 2015" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, &amp; Flanagan (l-r) in 2015 (photo via The Governor's Office)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>The first Sunshine Week following the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos got off to an inauspicious start Monday as representatives of the state's major good government groups gathered in Albany to give their evaluation of the ethics reforms put forward in the one-house budgets released by the Assembly and Senate majorities over the weekend.</p> <p>"Unfortunately with a late Friday release what we're seeing is what I've begun to call 'The Albany Shuffle,'" said Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY. "Issues addressed with bills that aren't quite strong enough, that have a low probability of making it into law. What we need now and what we've been saying quite consistently is there is a crisis of corruption, this is the moment for a robust ethics package, and that we need the governor to be asserting his leadership bringing both houses of the Legislature together on a strong comprehensive ethics package."</p> <p>Sunshine Week is supposed to be a celebration and examination of transparency and openness in government. It arrives in Albany this year for one of the most secretive and restrictive budget processes in recent memory. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan have carried out clandestine budget negotiations with an efficiency rarely seen. Usually reporters are tipped to budget meetings, proposals are floated in the press, and press conferences held to update the public on progress. This year the information has largely dried up and Cuomo hasn't held a second floor press conference since late June of last year.</p> <p>"It's as dark a process as I've ever seen," Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>While Cuomo included ethics reforms in his budget he hasn't mentioned reform since without direct provocation by reporters. The Assembly majority released an ethics reform plan on Friday and the Senate majority appears to have no interest in new reforms to prevent or punish corruption, other than a pension forfeiture measure.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration lashed out at good government groups last week after they called on the governor to hold public meetings with legislative leaders on ethics reform. Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Advocates-Cuomo-not-doing-enough-on-ethics-6878498.php" target="_blank">said</a> that there would be further discussion of ethics reform while also looking at who funds good government groups and whether they are actually "shadow lobbyists."</p> <p>Horner said he believes that state leaders are working together to squash reform talk in hopes that public interest wanes. He also believes they are misjudging the impact of the Skelos and Silver convictions. "No public hearings, no public input around the biggest scandals that have rocked Albany in generations, and so it's sort of a stunning rebuke not only for the public's right to know, but also for Sunshine Week that this is what we are talking about - Albany being closed to public scrutiny and what may be a colossal failure by Albany's political establishment to deal with the biggest issues facing state government."</p> <p>On Monday, good government groups didn't have anything to evaluate when it came to the Senate's budget proposal because it does not contain any ethics reform proposals.</p> <p>"This week is Sunshine Week, which is the national celebration of openness in government," said Horner. "In Albany, unfortunately, the curtains are tightly drawn in terms of what the public can see in [government] deliberations."</p> <p>Horner, Lerner, and other government reform group representatives criticized the Assembly plan as having no particular logic. One measure included in the Assembly budget restricts legislators' outside income to 40 percent of a state Supreme Court judge's salary, which comes to about $70,000. Legislators currently earn $79,500 per year. Gov. Cuomo proposed a bill earlier this year restricting outside income to 15 percent of that salary - Cuomo's plan is drawn from the current Congressional model.</p> <p>The Assembly also proposed a law that would restrict lawyer-legislators from simply earning money by having their name at a law firm, requiring them to prove they actually do casework. Horner said that the language of the law is so vague it is hard to tell who would judge what was legitimate work for a law firm and how it would be enforced. Heastie told reporters on Friday that his conference hadn't quite figured out enforcement yet.</p> <p>Lerner and Horner both said they believe that the governor and legislative leaders will play the "blame game" on ethics, without reaching any consensus. Cuomo will blame the Legislature for proposing weaker measures than he did, or for not supporting reform at all, and both houses of the legislature will blame each other.</p> <p>Early Monday rank-and-file lawmakers were boning up on their house budgets as the majorities moved swiftly to vote on the plans. Many expect that a vote on the overall budget could come by the end of the week, delivering an early spending plan - the deadline is the end of the month. However, if that does come to pass many legislators expect contentious issues like ethics reform, a minimum wage hike, and paid family leave to be excluded, pushed to the legislative session to follow the budget.</p> <p>A deal by the end of the week would also mean that the "three men in a room" - Democrats Cuomo and Heastie and Flanagan, a Republican - would have quickly hammered out their differences in typical Albany fashion. Asked on Friday by Gotham Gazette about how many negotiation sessions the three had had, Heastie was evasive, saying there had been meetings, but only on broad strokes. He indicated that specific discussions would heat up once the two chambers passed their one-house budgets. Heastie did give a speech in New York City on Friday and take more than 45 minutes of questions from reporters.</p> <p>Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins criticized the budget process before her house voted on the Republican-crafted, one-house bill. "Today on the first day of Sunshine Week, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this year's budget process has taken a step back in transparency," she said. "The much maligned 'three men in the room' process seems to have been replaced by a more secretive format of covert meetings and phone calls shielded from the press and public. I hope that in the remaining time left we can open up this process and allow all New Yorkers to see what we are doing on their behalf."</p> <p>Assembly Republicans expressed horror that the Democrats' reform plans weren't stronger and didn't address a multitude of gripes they have with how power is allocated in the chamber. Senate Democrats decried the lack of any reforms in the Republican budget. Both majorities said there would be more discussion of ethics - Assembly Democrats say it will come during budget negotiations, Senate Republicans insist it will be after.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>