Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/667 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 04:28:27 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) New York Reasserts Its Historic Leadership as a Haven for Immigrants http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6751:new-york-reasserts-its-historic-leadership-as-a-haven-for-immigrants http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6751:new-york-reasserts-its-historic-leadership-as-a-haven-for-immigrants Governor Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo (photo: Kevin Coughlin/The Governor's office)


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has joined the chorus of criticism against President Trump’s ban on refugees and other immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations. “I never thought I’d see the day when refugees who have fled war-torn countries in search of a better life would be turned away at our doorstep," the governor said in a statement following the president’s executive order. "We are a nation of bridges, not walls, and a great many of us still believe in the words 'give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...' This is not who we are, and not who we should be.”

Mario Cuomo strikes a resounding chord
Andrew Cuomo's support for immigration and diversity echoes the sentiments of his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, who served from 1983 to 1995. The elder Cuomo was the first Italian American elected as governor of New York State. He had no tolerance for prejudice and worked tirelessly for human equality and dignity. A champion of recognizing merit regardless of sex or race, he appointed the first Black, the first Latino, and the first two women judges to the state's Court of Appeals.

In talking about immigration issues, Mario Cuomo often recalled the story of his parents, Andrea and Immaculata Cuomo. Penniless and unable to speak English, they had come to the United States from the Italian province of Salerno, south of Naples -- Andrea in 1926 and his wife a year later in 1927. After spending three years in Jersey City, they moved to the Queens neighborhood of South Jamaica, where they opened a grocery store and raised their family.

By that time, there were thousands of Italian Americans in New York. But across the nation, there was lots of prejudice against Italians for their religion (mostly Catholic), speech (most learned English, but often it was not perfect) and culture (they retained some old country ways but assimilated into their new land and were proud to be Americans). Congress enacted laws in 1921 and 1924 to cap total annual immigration and impose numerical quotas based on immigrant nationality that favored northern and western European countries. The laws were directed against Italians and others from southern Europe. “The old belief in America as a promised land for all who yearn for freedom had lost its operative significance," with the passage of these laws, wrote historian John Higham in his book “Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925.” It had been replaced by a "new equation between national loyalty and a large measure of political and social conformity." By the time Mario Cuomo's parents arrived, a few years after the restrictive legislation, the flow of southern and eastern European immigrants had been greatly reduced.

National immigration policy continued to change and became more open in later years. But Mario Cuomo, born in 1932, remembered the sort of prejudice his parents faced and fought it his entire career. For him, it was a personal matter as well as a matter of public policy.
In a 1992 speech at New York University, Cuomo decried "nativist sloganeering and parochial fear-mongering that's been aimed at every group of new immigrants throughout our history." He recalled his parents' lives. "I thank God the country didn't say to them 'we can't afford you right now; you might take someone else's jobs, or cost us too much,'”, he said. “I'm glad they didn't ask my father if he could speak English, because he couldn't. I'm glad they didn't ask my mother if she could count, because she couldn't...I'm glad they didn't ask my father what special skills he brought to this great and dynamic nation because there was no special expertise to the way he handled a shovel when he dug trenches for a sewer pipe. I'm glad they let him in anyway."

Cuomo worked to rally the Democratic party for the cause of immigrants. "We speak for the minorities who have not yet entered the mainstream," he said in his address to the 1984 Democratic convention. "We speak for ethnics who want to add their culture to the magnificent mosaic that is America."

Andrew Cuomo continues a New York tradition
Speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention last July, Andrew Cuomo sounded a similar note. "The Trump campaign is marketing a great distraction, using people’s fear and anxiety to drive his ratings," he told the delegates. "Their message comes down to this: be afraid of people who are different — be afraid of different religions and different colors and different languages. Stop immigration and they believe the nation will automatically rise. It’s not right, it’s divisive, it’s delusional, and we must expose the truth to the people of this nation. Unless Republicans are all Native Americans, then they are immigrants too."

In a speech this past November, Andrew Cuomo asserted that he and New York will fight against the spread of anti-immigrant fear. Like his father, he put it in personal terms. "If there is a move to deport immigrants then I say start with me,” he said. “I am a son of immigrants. Son of Mario Cuomo, who is the son of Andrea Cuomo, a poor, Italian immigrant who came to this country without a job, without money, or resources and he was here only for the promise of America."

Cuomo intends to make good on his promise to protect immigrant rights. He has ordered his counsel's office to explore legal options to help anyone detained at New York airports to ensure their rights are protected. Promising more action, on January 29 he said, “As New Yorkers who live in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, we welcome new immigrants as a source of energy and celebrate them as a source of revitalization for our state. We will ensure New York remains a beacon of hope and opportunity and will work to protect the rights of those seeking refuge in our state."

New York -- Land of promise
The fight over refugees and immigrants is likely to be a spirited one. The Trump administration promises to strengthen restrictions and ramp up stringent vetting of foreigners who want to enter the country. New York State seems likely to insist on continuing its historical tradition of welcoming newcomers. New York has led before and will again this time. It is a natural role for our state, particularly since New York City is where more immigrants have entered the nation over the years than at any other place.

Immigration policies varied over the years, but many of the immigrants have had one thing in common - aspirations for a better life. "More than anything else, the immigrants come with dreams -- dreams that hunger might become a thing of the past, dreams that restrictions and discrimination might be replaced by rights, and dreams that poverty might be traded for security and opportunity, if not for oneself, then at least for one's children or grandchildren," writes Andrew Anbinder in his new book “City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York.” He continues, "These dreams characterized the New York immigrant story from the arrival of the first Dutch settlers through the heyday of Five Points, the Lower East Side, and Little Italy. Those same dreams dominate the lives of New York's newest immigrants, whether they are Chinese or Guyanese, Jamaican or Dominican, Mexican or Ghanaian. The story of immigrant New York is truly a story of dreams."

***
Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne's latest book is The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
New York Reasserts Its Historic Leadership as a Haven for Immigrants Wed, 08 Feb 2017 03:07:19 +0000
Corruption in Albany: Will Anything Really Change? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6514:corruption-in-albany-will-anything-really-change http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6514:corruption-in-albany-will-anything-really-change Cuomo 2016 State of the State side stage

Gov. Cuomo (photo via The Governor's Office on Flickr)


Can legal restrictions halt corruption in the state Legislature? History suggests that they are necessary but limited.

A new ethics law, more of the same
Several state legislators have been charged with corrupt practices in recent years and the leaders of both houses of the Legislature found guilty of violating federal laws. Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos are headed to prison unless their appeals succeed. The Legislature considered several basic remedies in the 2016 session. It passed a bill championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the very end, introduced so late in the session that many leaders did not have time to read it and speeded through with the help of a "Message of Necessity" from the governor, which enabled the Legislature to dispense with requirements for deliberation that would at least have provided time for news media and other watchdogs to dissect it and legislators to read it.

After waiting as long as possible, the governor signed it in late August with no public ceremony and only a brief statement that “New York is taking aggressive action to restore the people’s faith in government and increase accountability and transparency in the electoral process.”

"They needed an ethics reform so people knew they could trust Albany and this is a great first step," he added. "If people don't trust the system, the system can't function." That was a tepid endorsement at best. This is the fourth state ethics bill that Cuomo has signed and this one has almost nothing to do with the practices of state lawmakers.

The new law places new restrictions on independent expenditure campaign contributions but does not close the so-called "LLC Loophole,"which allows firms that control several limited liability companies to multiply the means of giving to campaigns. It doesn't restrict legislators' outside incomes or create blockades against a pay-to-play culture of campaign contributions and government decision-making. One of the things that it does do is force issue-oriented lobbying groups to disclose more donor information. That may undermine some of the good-government groups that pressed for more sweeping ethics legislation.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, is among those who have said that the law is probably unconstitutional. Dadey said that "my organization's board was astonished by this piece of legislation."

"Common Cause/NY is deeply disappointed that Governor Andrew Cuomo has chosen to ignore the causes of systematic corruption in Albany, and instead wrongfully punish organizations' proper and lawful collaboration to more effectively advocate for their causes,” said its executive director, Susan Lerner.

Business, money and politics -- an old story in New York
As noted, Gov. Cuomo calls this new law a good first step. But is it really that?

In his annual message to the Legislature, the governor denounced "political contributions by business corporations" as "morally wrong....Its contributions are influenced by business and not by patriotism and, like other investments, are made in the hope and expectation of financial return or to avert threatened pecuniary injury." The governor recommended making political payments by corporations a criminal offense.

Cuomo in 2016? Actually, it was Governor Frank W. Higgins, in 1906.

Higgins was reacting to the long history of scandals over corporate funds swaying political elections in New York,  allegations of large secret corporate campaign contributions in the 1904 presidential election and the 1905 mayoral election in New York City, and a recent legislative investigation that had revealed insurance companies spending to influence legislation affecting them.

The Legislature took up and quickly passed three pieces of legislation. One prohibited corporate campaign contributions. Another required candidates and political committees to make public a record of their campaign receipts and expenditures. A third redefined corrupt practices by defining what campaign expenditures were acceptable. They went into the statute books as chapters 239, 502, and 503 of the Laws of 1906.

Since then, the campaign ethics laws have been amended and updated, and impacted by court decisions. But the role of money in politics has continued. There have  been lots of legislative scandals, but they have usually led to meager ethics reform, as they did this year.

Good government groups often call on the Governor to pressure the Legislature to adopt more sweeping measures. That would require the Governor to expend political capital and rally the citizens to pressure the Legislature.

"It is easy for an executive to run against the Legislature," said Governor Cuomo. "We want an ethics bill. [But] I cannot get an ethics bill by piling up political victory after political victory on the editorial pages."

That sounds like the rationale for Andrew Cuomo's seeming casualness about ethics reform this year.  Actually, it was his father, Mario Cuomo, in 1987, explaining yet another stunted reform initiative.

What might help, beyond the law and the prosecutor?
Legal proscriptions, and vigorous prosecution of corruption, such as that carried out by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in recent years, are essential to good government. But history suggests that other factors are also important:

* The tone starts at the top. If the Speaker of the Assembly and the Majority Leader of the Senate are models of probity, they set the right tone and their example may cascade down through the two houses of the Legislature. One example is Oswald D. Heck, New York's longest-tenured Assembly Speaker (1937-1959): scrupulous, honest, personally modest, but a very effective leader. Assembly scandals were very rare in his 22-year tenure.

*Real competition in legislative elections. It keeps incumbents on their toes, discourages ethics lapses that their opponents might use, and forces them to really explain and defend their records at election time. Throughout much of New York's history, most State Assembly and Senate seats were contested. More recently, particularly because of redistricting and gerrymandering, many districts are overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican. That discourages opposition, advantages incumbents, and may help promote a feeling of complacency.

*Giving rank-and-file legislators more power in their respective houses. The prosecution and conviction of Assembly Speaker Silver revealed his power to designate committee chairs and control the flow of legislation. Members of the Assembly's Democratic majority felt inclined, or compelled, to "go along" rather than take principled, independent stands that might have earned them the speaker's enmity. Silver stamped out potential opposition, e.g., from Majority Leader Michael Bragman who lost his position after challenging Silver for the Speaker's post in 2000 and resigned the next year.

Speaking in Albany last February, Bharara decried the complacency of legislators, whom he called "enablers" in the "rancid culture" at the Capitol. The current Speaker of the Assembly and Majority Leader of the Senate have both indicated they are giving more leeway to individual legislators. But still more is needed.

*Aggressive news media. Over the course of our history, the Albany press corps has exposed more corruption than any U.S. Attorney. Journalists’ vigilance and oversight help legislators avoid temptation. The hometown press follows, or should follow, local legislators' committee assignments, bills introduced, position statements, speeches, and to the degree possible, campaign contributions. The advent of 24/7 news, online forums, and social media can shed even more light and promote transparency.

*Widespread public frustration with government. Work by the Pew Research Center shows the distrust and disappointment. Public officials are seen as needing more integrity, values-based judgment, and application of personal ethics in their service to the public. Those are not easy things to impose by ethics laws or threats of prosecution for unethical or illegal acts. They are more deep-seated, character-based. Perhaps we should require every legislator, or at least every new one, to read Clayton Christensen's 2012 book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” It's about achieving a fulfilling life through ethically-based service to others, a reminder that pursuing -- or spurning -- corrupt practices is, fundamentally, a personal choice.

***
Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne's latest book is The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

]]>
Corruption in Albany: Will Anything Really Change? Tue, 06 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Buffalo Billion Probe: Bad Apples or Broken System? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6331:buffalo-billion-probe-bad-apples-or-broken-system http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6331:buffalo-billion-probe-bad-apples-or-broken-system cuomo buffalo billion

Gov. Cuomo in Buffalo (photo via The Governor's Office)


As U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office issues a storm of subpoenas to the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo and his close associates in relation to the state’s Buffalo Billion economic development program, the governor and his aides have delivered a consistent message: the investigation targets the dealings of a few bad apples, the governor wasn’t aware of any wrongdoing and he wants to get to the bottom of the situation as quickly as possible.

“I’ve said to all my people, and I’ve said to the U.S. attorney, any way we can find out and be helpful and be cooperative, we will be,” Cuomo told reporters during a press conference in the Adirondacks on Tuesday. “Nobody wants the facts more than us. That’s why we started our own private investigation. We know the questions: did two people act improperly? Did they represent companies they shouldn’t have? Was there undue influence for those companies? Those are the questions, we now need the answers and we don’t have the answers.”

The message rings as spin to a number of expert observers who insist Cuomo has long overseen a system that allows, at the very least, for the appearance of pay-to-play to flourish as mini-economies have popped up around the state where connected consultants work with both state government entities and those looking to win state contracts, and where the state funnels money through non-profits, allowing them to avoid scrutiny and standard state contracting procedures.

Bharara’s probe appears to have also spurred inquiries into surrounding issues by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli - all of whom, like Cuomo, are Democrats.

It is unclear whether the two men who have been reported to be at the center of the probe - longtime Cuomo aide Joe Percoco and Cuomo family associate and lobbyist Todd Howe - violated the law or how Bharara’s many subpoenas that have targeted the executive chamber, former Cuomo aides, consultants, and businesses involved in the Buffalo Billion all fit together. However, the scope of the investigation and the deep layers of connections between and among some of the players involved makes it fairly clear that the target of Bharara’s investigation is not simply two Cuomo associates.

Unlike New York City, New York State has no restrictions on what is referred to as “pay-to-play.” Donors with business before the state are allowed to contribute the same amount as anyone else to a candidate campaign.

Meanwhile, the checks that exist on how the state awards contracts have been subverted by the use of non-profit entities that aren’t subject to the same regulations. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and other government and budget watchdogs have criticized the proliferation of these entities and called for reform.

When acknowledging that investigators are looking into actions by individual actors and decisions that were made by state entities, Cuomo also announced “our own investigation with a private investigator who was from the U.S. attorney’s office originally, Mr. Bart Schwartz.” Though it is being explained differently, the move is seen by some watchdogs as designed only to target specific contracts and not intended to address what they say is a flawed system plagued by the appearance and risk of corruption, if not worse.

“The governor is trying to get in front of this issue and is saying a couple of people did something wrong, but the reality is that the entire system is ripe for corruption,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director of The Fiscal Policy Institute, an independent group that analyzes New York fiscal issues.

Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever declined comment, but pointed Gotham Gazette to a statement issued by Cuomo counsel Alphonso David. (Another Cuomo aide emailed a sarcastic comment to Gotham Gazette.)

Alphonso David issued a statement just as the New York Daily News broke a story April 29 revealing that Percoco is a target of Bharara’s probe, acknowledging allegations and announcing the independent investigation.

“This [federal] investigation has recently raised questions of improper lobbying and undisclosed conflicts of interest by some individuals which may have deceived state employees involved in the respective programs and may have defrauded the state,” David wrote. “We take violations of the public trust seriously and we believe these issues must be resolved by further investigation by the U.S. Attorney. In the meantime, and as the [Buffalo Billion] program operates on a daily basis, the Governor has ordered an immediate full review of the program. Any grants made by this program will be thoroughly scrutinized – past, current or future.”

David went on to say: “Ensuring the integrity of the contracting process for this program is paramount, so that the Buffalo Billion and Nano program can continue creating new jobs and revitalizing Upstate’s economy.”

The statement wasn’t reassuring for many watchdogs, especially those who have long-criticized the Buffalo Billion program.

“The governor is looking at it in terms of the mistakes, or poor behavior of a couple aides that he seems to be disassociating himself with,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany. “But what the subpoenas are targeting seems to be the corruption risk and bid-rigging favoring the governor’s campaign contributors. No one cares Todd Howe did something dumb. This is not what this is about - the governor sidestepped the larger issues.”

At least six current or former members of the Cuomo administration have been targeted by subpoenas. The administration has defended some of them.

A review of a number of businesses targeted by Bharara’s subpoenas shows that most of them are regular contributors to Cuomo’s campaigns. That leads some observers, including Kaehny, to believe that Bharara is interested in the state’s economic development subsidy programs as a whole.

“The Buffalo Billion is just a microcosm of the pay-to-play racket that has engulfed economic development under Governor Cuomo,” said Kaehny. “It is just a giant machine that takes in donations and doles out grants to donors. It is remarkable in its scope, consistency, and is dramatic in how it all leads back to the same people. What caught Bharara's interest in this is a system - not a rogue agent, not a bad apple, it's a system.”

Jennifer Rodgers, formerly of the U.S. Attorney’s office and current executive director of Columbia’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, said she does not believe that is the case.

“I wouldn't say the fact that the U.S. Attorney is involved means it is systemic,” said Rodgers. “This is important enough even if it is just two guys who took bribes for grants with their position, and importance makes it a very worthy case to pursue. If I learned two guys were taking all this money and were involved in these subsidies, I would think they were good targets,” said Rodgers.

However, Rodgers said she understands why there is suspicion about the overall system. “I think it is a disaster of a system that everyone in good government sees as asking for trouble - there is no oversight. At the same time, it is not the U.S. Attorney's job to change the system. Their job is to charge guys with criminality. I could see issuing a grand jury report that says ‘by the way this system is asking for trouble,’ but it is not the crux of what he does.”

Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said without knowing what Bharara knows, it is impossible to judge what he is really after. “But I would say opacity in government increases the risk for corruption. What is so notable about how the Cuomo administration operates is they keep their decision-making process behind closed doors and he only shows the public what he wants them to see. This is the governor who ordered agencies to delete their emails and who still hasn’t told us how the Tappan Zee Bridge will be funded and it’s half completed.”

Gerald Benjamin, a professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz noted that the fact SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros has been subpoenaed and appears to have been a target of the probe since the fall, “makes it a much bigger matter that could be focused on systemic practices.”

Kaloyeros has overseen much of the Buffalo Billion contracting and has become a major figure in the Cuomo administration as the governor has ramped up his economic development programs.

“The issue we have is confidentiality,” Kaloyeros told Gotham Gazette by Facebook messenger last fall when being asked about the Buffalo Billion investigation. “We were instructed in no uncertain terms not to comment on the inquiry from down South with the threat of jail which is being interpreted as we are the target of an investigation. So that part we cannot comment on beyond what we were authorized to say publicly."

Gov. Cuomo has distanced himself from Percoco and Howe. Percoco, who has been characterized as a third son to Mario Cuomo, worked at Andrew Cuomo’s side since his days at HUD. Percoco left the administration for part of 2014 to run the governor’s reelection campaign. He later filed income disclosure forms with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) revealing he received income from two developers with business before the state while managing the governor’s campaign.

Todd Howe, the Washington lobbyist who had a relationship with Mario Cuomo and worked for Andrew Cuomo’s 2014 campaign under Percoco, has been involved in steering donations from contractors to Cuomo and attended a fundraiser with Cuomo as recently as December, according to Politico New York, which reported that Howe steered donations from “several development and energy companies” to Cuomo’s reelection campaign.

Cuomo has said he allowed Percoco to take on outside work because he was strapped for cash. The governor has denied he had much of a relationship with Howe. Cuomo rejected the idea that he should have questioned Percoco on whether his outside clients had business with the state, telling reporters on Tuesday, “No. The state has tens of thousands of employees; they’re not supposed to be cross-examined to make sure they’re following the rules, right?”

Horner rejected Cuomo’s assertion that he shouldn’t have kept himself apprised of Percoco’s outside work. “It is the governor’s responsibility. He allowed Percoco to take outside work in the first place. This guy is not a hands-off administrator. That being said, he can’t know everything.”

Aside from the red flags sent up by donations and dealings with the air of conflict of interest, watchdog groups say they believe Bharara may be examining the Buffalo Billion because it is clear that up until now on one on the state level has been.

Cuomo and the Legislature crippled the Comptroller’s ability to audit deals made regarding the Buffalo Billion in 2011, DiNapoli and others say, by passing legislation that prevented auditing of SUNY, CUNY, hospital or construction funds. That is important to the Buffalo Billion because the state funnels cash for Buffalo Billion contracts through two non-profits controlled by SUNY.

On Wednesday, DiNapoli unveiled a series of proposals to bring more transparency to state spending - a few which would likely impact how the state funds the Buffalo Billion. His plan would ban lump sum appropriations, create a council to plan capital spending, and require economic development program proposals to be scored and ranked in a public database.

“Public authorities are not subject to the same checks and balances that apply to state agencies, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars being spent annually with limited oversight,” reads the release from DiNapoli’s office. “DiNapoli’s proposal would require state-funded public authority projects to be scored and ranked using measurable and objective criteria. His proposal also requires more disclosure of public authorities’ spending and financing activities.”

Deutsch has been advocating for such a database for years. “My entire career I've been calling the efficacy of these programs into question,” said Deutsch. “We saw Empire Zones move to cater to where businesses wanted to be rather than have them come to economically disadvantaged areas,” Deutsch said of an economic development program that was a hallmark of Republican Governor George Pataki. “Every once in awhile there's a bad deal, or someone breaks the law and people pay attention for a little while.”

While calling for his own investigation of the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo has simultaneously downplayed the role of the state’s existing ethics body in preventing possible conflicts of interest. Asked whether JCOPE should have flagged Percoco’s filing that showed him taking income from groups with business before the state, Cuomo told reporters on Tuesday: “JCOPE has proven effective. Can an agency always be more effective? But I don’t think this is about JCOPE. We’re looking at two individuals to see if they’ve done anything improper. The first responsibility lies with that individual.” Cuomo also told reporters that you have to engage in criminality to be a target of JCOPE.

JCOPE is able to give administration officials guidance in taking outside work. It is unclear if JCOPE issued such an opinion in the case of Percoco. The commission has been headed by a succession of three Cuomo aides since its inception. Seth Agata, the new and third head of the commission, once served as Cuomo’s counsel, where he wrote to JCOPE to ask for clearance for Cuomo to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars to write a memoir for a company that has business before the state. Permission was granted.

The Legislature has shown little interest in reforming how the state doles out subsidies. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, told State of Politics on Wednesday that the state should be “forging ahead” with current economic development programs. “The executive has an inherent responsibility to be overseeing these projects from start to finish,” Flanagan said. “I don’t think we should be scaling back anything. Can we take a closer look, put it under a microscope, fine. But people need jobs. This is a great way to create economic development.”

Cuomo’s creation of an independent investigation is worrying to some because of the governor’s history with independent commissions.

“Bart Schwartz is not independent, Alphonso David is not independent, Seth Agata is not independent,” said Kaehny. “The public will not get the truth unless the facts are independently accessed and the governor is incapable of investigating himself. We’ve seen what happens when the governor says ‘Follow the money wherever it may lead’ - as soon as the money brought [the] Moreland [Commission to Investigate Public Corruption] back to the governor and his real estate contributors at REBNY, Cuomo pulled the plug...No one is good at investigating themselves,” said Kaehny.

Rodgers, of CAPI, said that she has faith in Cuomo’s independent investigation. “The U.S. Attorney's Office will proceed with their work regardless of what internal investigation is going on,” said Rodgers. “And Bart Schwartz being chosen to head the internal investigation is a good sign for the credibility and independence of whatever findings he makes. If the governor's office had chosen someone with less credibility, you could see that there might be suggestions about tampering with witnesses and other evidence (i.e. that the governor's investigation might try to taint the government investigation during their own evidence collection), but I don't think you'll see any of that here with Bart in charge.”

Asked if voters should have faith in Schwartz’s investigation, Horner replied, “They should have faith in Preet Bharara.”

On Thursday, following the sentencing of former Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Bharara issued a statement trumpeting the conviction and sentencing of Skelos and former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The statement included a reference to Cuomo-controlled investigations. “These cases show--and history teaches--that the most effective corruption investigations are those that are truly independent and not in danger of either interference of premature shutdown.”

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Buffalo Billion Probe: Bad Apples or Broken System? Thu, 12 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
A Post-Budget Test of the Governor’s Commitment to a Constitutional Convention http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6283:a-post-budget-test-of-the-governor-s-commitment-to-a-constitutional-convention http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6283:a-post-budget-test-of-the-governor-s-commitment-to-a-constitutional-convention cuomo desk legislation signing

Cuomo signs legislation (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)


In terms of the state’s nearly $150 billion budget, $1 million isn’t a lot of money. But for reform advocates the $1 million Gov. Andrew Cuomo had committed in his executive budget plan for a commission to prepare for a constitutional convention was both functionally and symbolically crucial to their belief that the governor and the Legislature would actually commit to reforming state government - or at least giving “the people” an opportunity to do so.

The funding was dedicated by the governor for supporting and reforming the process of running a constitutional convention, which voters will have the opportunity to approve on their November 2017 ballots. A convention, government reformers say, would allow voters to consider major changes to the state constitution including things like public financing of election campaigns, term limits for legislators, and redistricting of legislative domains. It was a sign to many eager to see a more ethical, democratic government that Cuomo, a Democrat who many advocates see as having abandoned a number of previous reform efforts, was on board for real change.

However, the funding was nowhere to be found when a budget deal was reached.

Advocates for both a constitutional convention and good planning for the possibility of one now say it is up to the governor to act to prepare for the convention without the help of the Legislature. As a sign of how complicated the constitutional convention politics are, two prominent convention supporters are split on who is to blame for the funds being taken from the budget.

“The fact that he can't find $1 million in a $150 billion budget is shocking,” said Bill Samuels, a con-con supporter and head of reform group Effective New York. “Here we go again where [Gov. Cuomo] says one thing and does another just as he bowed out of [the] Moreland [Commission to Fight Public Corruption] and countless other examples, like redistricting reform, where he did one thing and said another.”

Gerald Benjamin, a dean and political scientist at SUNY New Paltz who is involved in a public education campaign surrounding the 2017 constitutional convention vote, disagreed. “The Legislature isn’t off the hook,” Benjamin said in an interview. “This was a hostile act designed to thwart reform. This isn’t about pressuring anyone to act, this is about the public taking an opportunity for the public good.” State of Politics first reported that the $1 million was not included in the state budget after Benjamin notified the outlet.

The Cuomo administration says it is fully committed to supporting a constitutional convention and says the legislative leaders simply weren’t interested.

“We continue to support a constitutional convention and are examining all options and resources available to form and fund a commission,” Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi told Gotham Gazette.

Scott Reif, spokesperson for the Republican Senate Majority, said that his conference wasn’t satisfied with Cuomo’s proposal. “There were no specifics provided by the Executive about the proposed appropriation,” Reif explained.

Reif’s counterpart for the Democratic Assembly Majority said similarly. “There was no structure around the proposal as to how the money would be used, so as defined in our one-house budget and approved in the final budget we thought a better use of the funding would be for the Women's Suffrage Commemoration Commission,” said Assembly spokesperson Michael Whyland.

The Legislature is capable of calling a constitutional convention at any time, but the Constitution mandates voters get to decide whether to call one every 20 years. The next referendum is scheduled for Nov. 7, 2017. If approved by a majority of voters a convention would be held in April 2019, but first voters would have to select delegates in November 2018.

A major concern for supporters and detractors of a convention is the current selection process for convention delegates, the people who would actually negotiate constitutional changes. In the past, many delegates have been elected officials or people with close connections to them, which raises fears that the process will be stacked in the favor of the establishment instead of voters. A number of fixes to the problem have been floated inside and outside the Legislature, but so far no action has been taken.

Cuomo’s 2016 policy book that accompanied his budget provided the following explanation: “From ethics enforcement to the basic rules governing day-to-day business in Albany, the process of government in New York State is broken. Governor Cuomo believes a constitutional convention offers voters the opportunity to achieve lasting reform in Albany. The Governor will invest $1 million to create an expert, non-partisan commission to develop a blueprint for a convention. The commission will also be authorized to recommend fixes to the current convention delegate selection process, which experts agree is flawed.”

Samuels dismissed the notion that the Legislature was responsible for removing the proposal from the budget. “You can't put [Carl] Heastie and [John] Flanagan on the hook,” said Samuels of the current Assembly Speaker and Majority Leader, respectively. “They have no interest in the whole thing. They think [U.S. Attorney] Preet [Bharara] is done going after the Legislature.”

Benjamin rejected Reif’s assertion that there wasn’t enough “detail” in the governor’s proposal, noting that the state has routinely prepared for constitutional conventions over the past century. “A good reason to do this is because the Legislature is against it,” Benjamin said with a laugh.

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a longtime supporter of a constitutional convention, told Gotham Gazette that he feels the onus is on Cuomo to move the process forward. “My guess is the majorities aren’t too wild about a constitutional convention,” said Kolb. “Like a host of other things, if the governor really wants it he can obnoxious until he gets what he wants.” However, Kolb said he could understand the hesitation of the legislature to approve $1 million for a convention voters might reject.

Some groups are loathe to open up the process because they worry it is corrupted - convention delegates tend to be politically connected, including some state legislators themselves - and some groups worry the convention process could lead to a rolling back of good government reforms or environmental or labor protections.

Advocates for the process have been trying to change how delegates are selected to reduce political cronyism. They saw Cuomo’s preparatory commission as assurance that the lead up to a referendum and convention would be open and orderly.

Legislative leaders, on the other hand, have very little interest in a process that would allow the public to vote on reforms that could reduce their grasp on the majority, or otherwise weaken their power.

Samuels said securing the $1 million was on Cuomo and his failure to do so reflects his lack of commitment to truly reforming Albany. “Believe me, this is all on Cuomo,” said Samuels, “This is just another bait and switch. Andrew’s father [former Gov. Mario Cuomo] used an executive order to start a preparatory commission, and I don’t see Andrew doing that. Andrew isn’t following in his father’s footsteps.”

Cuomo administration officials said that in fact they are considering using an executive order as Mario Cuomo did in 1993. The Goldmark Commission received some funding from Rockefeller College and helped plan how a convention would be held and what issues should be put before voters.

Kolb said he supports executive action by the administration to jumpstart the convention process. “He’s formed all kind of commissions through executive order, he just formed one today, so why not for this?” Kolb said, referring to a new panel the governor announced Thursday that will study the state’s business climate. “I didn’t think he should end the Moreland Commission.”

Still, Samuels is distrustful of the administration’s intentions. He said that in 2010, Cuomo aides promised him that if elected governor he would move up a constitutional convention to 2011. “Joe Percoco gave me a memo with all the things Cuomo would do to reform Albany and at the heart of it was a constitutional convention and all sorts of reforms that would be passed,” Samuels said. “He didn’t do any of it and yet he still has the nerve to say he supports it.”

Cuomo administration officials note Cuomo’s 2010 campaign policy book contained a commitment to having a constitutional convention. The issue took up four pages of the 252-page book, which is no longer available on Cuomo’s campaign website.

“In order to achieve lasting reform in many areas, we need to amend our State’s Constitution,” it reads. “Specifically, a Cuomo Administration would work to enact into law important reforms at a constitutional convention including an overhaul of our redistricting process, ethics enforcement, and succession rules, among others.”

Benjamin says now is the time for the governor to seize the chance to advocate and prepare for a convention: “This is a an opportunity for the governor. In a time dominated by such rage at the political status quo, this is an opportunity to look at the system and give the public a chance to participate.”

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
A Post-Budget Test of the Governor’s Commitment to a Constitutional Convention Sun, 17 Apr 2016 22:12:47 +0000
Cuomo’s 2016 Wins Shaped by Progressive Forces, Electoral Lessons http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6274:cuomo-s-2016-wins-shaped-by-progressive-forces-electoral-lessons http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6274:cuomo-s-2016-wins-shaped-by-progressive-forces-electoral-lessons cuomo clinton et al celebrate

Gov. Cuomo celebrates new progressie policies (photo: Don Pollard, Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched himself onto the national political stage this month by orchestrating a budget deal that made New York the first state to pass a $15 minimum wage and a paid family leave program. With Vice President Joe Biden at his side the governor pushed family leave; weeks later, Cuomo signed the package of “economic justice” legislation at a celebratory rally with Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. He was subsequently congratulated by President Obama.

All the while, labor union members cheered the governor who had, finally, made their agenda his.

Unlike other major policy wins from earlier in his tenure that sprung the governor into the national spotlight, like marriage equality and gun control, the minimum wage and family leave bills speak directly to socioeconomic issues that some of the state’s liberal base felt Cuomo, a Democrat, had been insensitive to. Cuomo had indeed rejected as flights of fancy those very policies only months before announcing campaigns to support them, first saying that they would be non-starters with Republicans controlling one house of the Legislature, then pursuing them with the intensity Cuomo has given to his must-wins.

Cuomo’s path to his moment as progressive trailblazer on economic issues was a winding one, mystifying some, including those calling political opportunism, while others point to the influence of four powerful figures: Mayor Bill de Blasio, gubernatorial challenger Zephyr Teachout, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and Democratic voters who could deliver the governor a third term in 2018.

On the way to a second term, Cuomo found himself in positions generally foreign to him: out-leveraged and outworked. First, Cuomo was humbled by the Working Families Party as it sought a 2014 alternative to a governor many of its members felt had betrayed their union members and progressive mission. Aided by de Blasio and making promises many now feel he did not intend to keep, Cuomo convinced the WFP to call off its third party challenge from Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout.

But then, the unknown, liberal Teachout, took Cuomo on in the Democratic primary, where the incumbent governor lost 30 counties and took home only 60 percent of the vote. Cuomo entered term two significantly weakened.

For Cuomo, known for crippling his rivals and bullying major organizations into submission, these were positions he never wanted to be in again.

It's a situation that insiders, pundits, and elected officials see as having given birth to the 2016 political environment in which Cuomo would fully embrace the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign and launch his own paid family leave push, invoking the name of his recently deceased father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, in both efforts. Cuomo traveled the state in an RV plastered with the Fight for $15 slogan, picking up the mantle of an effort led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its labor and liberal allies that Cuomo has often distanced himself from on economic issues.

“The original policy rests with de Blasio,” said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, of a liberal agenda. “The timing coincides with Teachout. But it leads to the governor deciding to tack left.”

Critics, even some supporters, see the governor’s leftward lurch as evidence of political opportunism.

“He doesn't give a damn about getting people out of poverty,” said Ed Cox, the chair of the New York Republican State Committee. “He cares about his own power. He had to do it to secure his political power, but in the end that kind of governing comes back to bite you.”

Cox is speaking at a time when state Senate Republicans went along with Cuomo’s minimum wage program, albeit a “calibrated” one, as Cuomo called it, where they were able to lengthen and regionalize the phase-in.

Congressional Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who has announced an exploratory committee for a 2018 gubernatorial run, also noticed the governor’s very public change of opinion. “You would have to talk to him to understand his motivation, but arguably the most persuasive critic against a $15 minimum wage is Governor Cuomo five minutes ago,” Gibson said.

As Gibson prepares a potential bid to unseat Cuomo, the governor appears to have a clearer picture of the base he needs to withstand such a challenge.

In Spring 2014, heads of the union-backed, left-leaning Working Families Party were ready to hand the powerful incumbent governor their endorsement but they had underestimated rank-and-file party members, activists turned off by what they saw as a fiscally conservative, transactional governor who cozied up to Senate Republicans, tussled with public employees unions, and generally thumbed his nose at the Democratic base.

The governor appeared by video during the WFP convention in late May 2014, acceding to a list of party demands in an endorsement deal brokered by de Blasio. When party members weren’t satisfied Cuomo was forced to follow up with a phone call promising to back a Democratic Senate, a higher minimum wage, and a push to enact the DREAM Act.

Cuomo looked forward to an easy reelection, whether he actually planned to follow through on his pledges to the WFP or not. But Teachout and many in the WFP didn’t get the memo, and the Democratic primary that followed was bruising and embarrassing for Cuomo as his campaign took on a bunker mentality while Teachout worked the base across the state.

“If you needed any more evidence that in New York state leaders of organizations have no control over their followers you just need to look at that situation,” said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “The governor thought he was dealing with an interest group and he had won their support, but a lot of their members weren’t happy with the governor and in fact an awful lot of voters shared their view.”

And what was that view exactly? “People’s lives aren’t good and they want them to be better,” said Sherrill, referring to working class voters.

It was a message that Cuomo appeared slow to pick up on - he backed a variety of wage increases but balked at de Blasio’s plan to raise the minimum wage and allow the city to set its own in February of 2014, saying it would be “chaotic” to have different wages across the state. “God bless them — shoot for the stars,” Cuomo said sarcastically in March, 2015, dismissing the Assembly Democrats’ plan to raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018. During a public cabinet meeting in February, 2015, Cuomo said the Legislature had “no appetite” for paid family leave.

Cuomo ran in 2010 as a leader who could provide competence to a capital that had seen one gubernatorial term split between Eliot Spitzer’s partisan bickering and scandal and David Paterson’s chaotic tenure characterized by a power struggle in the Senate and more scandal. The state was still reeling from the financial crisis and accustomed to late budgets and tax increases. Cuomo used his first term to prove he had a firm hand on the state’s finances and operations, negotiating tough deals with unions, delivering on-time budgets, instituting a property tax cap, and even delivering on socially liberal policy like marriage equality. But pundits say Cuomo missed a sea change in the electorate.

“There's some academic research that indicates legislators misestimate their constituents’ thinking,” said Sherrill. “They tend to believe they are more conservative than they really are. So when confronted with public opinion from their district they are shocked how further left [constituents] really are. I think that’s what happened to the governor. He had no idea public opinion had shifted the way it had - and it was not just the governor. The good politician that he is, he made a wise strategic adjustment.”

Howie Hawkins, who challenged Cuomo on the Green Party line in both 2010 and 2014, said he agrees with Sherrill. “I generally think constituents are more liberal than their representatives think, and I think the poll in this case being the votes in the primary and general elections showed [Cuomo] his mistake.”

Cuomo’s “adjustment” involved a change in agenda and messaging. Suddenly the governor who was known for dismissing the “poetry” of campaigning that his father so embraced took to the stump using lines from his father’s famous speech from the 1984 Democratic National Convention:

“But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.”

The younger Cuomo used the speech excerpt in a television campaign for his wage push, leading to the official Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, launched by Cuomo and labor leaders. The language and imagery mirrored the “Tale of Two Cities” motif de Blasio used for his 2013 mayoral campaign.

Hawkins, who told Gotham Gazette he is prepared to run for Governor again depending on the circumstances, said he doesn’t believe Cuomo has changed his general approach to governing. “I think he’s making gestures, but look at the budget - it is still fiscal austerity, especially cities and towns. There are unfunded mandates and lack of aid from the state, and while he has provided more money for education it is less than the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement,” Hawkins said, referring to the 2006 court decision by which New York City is still owed billions according to advocates. “When [Assembly Speaker Carl] Heastie proposed a slightly progressive income tax he just rejected it. So he is not dealing with basic fiscal structure.”

Hawkins said he believes Cuomo’s action on minimum wage and paid family leave will protect Cuomo from a challenge from inside the Democratic Party if the governor runs for a third term in 2018. Hawkins, who performed best in the Capital Region where Cuomo went to war with public worker unions early in his term, said he isn’t so sure the anger is going to be there again in 2018. “I don’t know that people are going to be that upset with him,” he said.

Cuomo’s Republican opposition sees the governor’s support of the $15 minimum wage as a political calculation designed to undercut his Democratic rival, de Blasio, while boosting his national standing. They imagine the governor has sapped de Blasio’s momentum and hopes to use it to land the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention this year, or perhaps even the Vice Presidency or a major cabinet position.

Political analysts call these scenarios unlikely. Cuomo has gone on the record saying he plans to win and serve a third term as Governor, unless, he says, he keels over from a heart attack induced by the Albany press corp. The governor’s office declined to comment for this story.

“In 2010 he understood he had to run as a fiscal conservative,” said Cox, the chair of the New York Republican State Committee. “In 2013 Bill de Blasio wins saying he is the progressive leader of the free world. In 2014 Cuomo’s running in his own primary and he has to beg to get the backing of the Working Families Party and he only gets 60 percent as a sitting Governor in his own party’s primary.”

Cox said that Cuomo slowly began taking on de Blasio’s positions, “just as Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton has done with Bernie Sanders.” And eventually “adopted the SEIU’s ‘Fight for 15’ campaign whole hock” to “avoid insulting his very important constituents in labor.”

Meanwhile, Cox points out that Cuomo made a number of his major policy announcements alongside Vice President Joe Biden, who was very much thought to be a presidential contender at the time.

Cox believes the governor’s minimum wage plan that embraces different phase-ins across the state - in direct contradiction to his previous statement calling such a system “chaotic” - will not only hurt the economy but leave the governor vulnerable to a Republican challenger.

Rep. Gibson, the most likely such challenger at this point, said he would have liked to see a less “politicized process” that tied the wage to inflation and focused on growth across the state. “When my dad was out of work it was devastating,” said Gibson. “People want to work. But I believe this wage increase will prevent people from working. It will kill jobs.”

Noting that a number of counties in his Congressional district border other states, Gibson said he believes businesses will soon flee across the border to avoid new mandates. Asked if he would look to slow the increase of the minimum wage should he be elected, Gibson said, “I need to look at any kind of action like that. I think it’s important to listen and to get the facts.”

There are still some Albany observers who believe Cuomo is looking past re-election and is ready to enter the national scene on the back of his victories on minimum wage and paid family leave. Cuomo has embraced the praise of both Hillary Clinton and President Obama, who commended the passage of paid family leave. “There’s no doubt he has national ambitions, he wants to win with big numbers and not be embarrassed in his primary,” said Sherrill. “So he is relocating himself, perhaps more to his own feelings or maybe not. It is very difficult, especially with [U.S. Attorney] Preet Bharara watching, to satisfy the Senate Republicans he helped elect and his Democratic base.”

Cuomo remains opposed to tax increases - he beat back an Assembly proposal for a new millionaire’s tax, passed a series of tax cuts this year, and is extremely sensitive to the notion that New York has some of the highest taxes in the nation. But Sherrill believes by being on the forefront of a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave the governor is part of a developing national trend that gets big business to pay without actually raising taxes. The paid family leave program also rests upon employee contributions.

“Cuomo, like his father, supported very big liberal policies that don’t cost money - marriage equality, gun control doesn't cost money,” said Sherrill. “He chalks up these kind of wins in an age where you can’t raise taxes.”

“A substantial number of voters want politicians to make their lives better, but they can't raise taxes,” Sherrill continued, explaining the broader political climate. “At some point the sheer number of voters outweighs the people with lots of money. You can't raise taxes, but you can do other things to make the wealthy pay, like raising the minimum wage. However, a lot of programs de Blasio and Cuomo are advocating are in fact ways to get money into people’s hands while raising the cost on the people who refuse to pay taxes,” said Sherrill. “At some point I think the business community just asks for its taxes to be raised because it will be better for them.”

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Cuomo’s 2016 Wins Shaped by Progressive Forces, Electoral Lessons Tue, 12 Apr 2016 03:52:05 +0000
New Yorkers Run for President: History and Insights for 2016 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6252:new-yorkers-run-for-president-history-and-insights-for-2016-page-three http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6252:new-yorkers-run-for-president-history-and-insights-for-2016-page-three trump rally

Donald Trump at a rally (photo: Trump campaign website)


continued from page 2 - this is page 3 of 3

Even more New Yorkers
If you count vice presidential nominees too, New Yorkers were on major ballots in 15 out of the 29 races from 1900 to 2012.

The New Yorker vice presidential nominees during the period since 1900 were Theodore Roosevelt, R, 1900; James Sherman, R, 1908; Franklin D. Roosevelt, D, 1920; William Miller, R, 1964; Geraldine Ferraro, D, 1984; and Jack Kemp, R, 1996. TR was elected with William McKinley. Sherman was elected with Taft (but died in office in 1912). The others went down to defeat along with the presidential nominees at the head of their tickets.

Of course, the list of New Yorkers in presidential politics gets even longer if you count prominent New Yorkers who were major contenders but failed to get the nomination. That would include Governors Nelson Rockefeller (R), who lost the nomination to Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Mario Cuomo (D) who agonized over whether to run in 1988 and 1992 and decided not to take the plunge.

The list would include Senator Robert Kennedy (D), who was assassinated during his quest for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. Rep. Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman elected to Congress (in 1968) campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. New York City Mayor John Lindsay switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party in 1971 and launched a brief but unsuccessful bid for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. Rudolph Giuliani (R), mayor from 1994 to 2001, sought his party's 2008 nomination, losing to John McCain.

Possible insights for 2016
It is always exciting when New Yorkers run for president! But finding parallels or applicable lessons from that history is a challenge. A few tentative insights:

*The New Yorkers who made it to the presidency in the 20th century -- Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt-- were among the nation's strongest presidents, constantly rated by historians in the top tier of our national leaders.

*Defeating a sitting President is difficult, as challengers learned in 1904, 1912, 1936, 1940, 1944, and 1948. On the other hand, running on the legacy of a previous president can help, as it did for Taft in 1908, Hoover in 1928, and Truman in 1948. That pattern may help Hillary Clinton, who can claim to be heir to at least some of Barack Obama's policies.

*Americans seem to prefer an exuberant campaign style over what might be called a judicious, restrained style. That subdued demeanor is sometimes associated with judges who are inclined to weigh and balance and look for nuances, e.g., possibly Parker in 1904, Hughes in 1916, and Taft (a judge before becoming TR's Secretary of War.)

*Red herrings and false issues can derail even a strong, thoughtful candidate, as Al Smith learned in 1928 when he was attacked for his religious beliefs.

*Wendell Willkie, a businessman who had never held political office, made a credible candidate in 1940. But his tenor and message were much different from businessman Donald Trump's today. He was a moderate, compromiser, inclined toward inclusion and accommodation, a unifier who tried to swing his party toward the mainstream.

*There may be a rough parallel between the "Stop Roosevelt!" campaign in the Republican party in 1911 and 1912 and the "Stop Trump!" campaign that some Republican leaders are mounting today. TR had triumphed in most of the primaries in 1912, though only a minority of states had them at that time, and could claim with some justification that where people had the chance to vote, they favored him as the Republican candidate. Trump is racking up primary wins this year. But TR expressed concrete, progressive, well-considered proposals and never resorted to bombast or bullying, which seem to be part of Trump's style.

*Hailing from New York can be a mixed blessing, as evidenced by Senator Ted Cruz' snide comment about Donald Trump representing "New York values." That sort of comment, with the vague innuendo it conveys, is something that Al Smith might have understood.

***
The New York presidential primaries are Tuesday, April 19; the general election will take place on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

This is page 3 of 3. Revisit page 1 or page 2 of this article.

***
Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne's latest book is The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
New Yorkers Run for President: History and Insights for 2016 Wed, 30 Mar 2016 15:32:17 +0000
'New York Values' in Historical Perspective http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6173:new-york-values-in-historical-perspective http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6173:new-york-values-in-historical-perspective ted cruz

Ted Cruz (photo: @SenTedCruz)


Stereotyping New York in political debate
In a Republican presidential debate in January, Senator Ted Cruz tried to score points, saying of Donald Trump, "Donald comes from New York and he represents New York values." Cruz went on to say that "everyone in the country knows exactly what New York values are and I've got to say they're not Iowa values or New Hampshire values." New Yorkers are "socially liberal and pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage and focus on money and the media," he said.

Cruz repeated the message, with variations, in his campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Senator Cruz was using an old political gambit, playing on stereotypes of New York (particularly New York City) as excessively liberal, corrupt, money-grubbing, and out of step with the rest of America.
New Yorkers get their backs up when their city or state is stigmatized or attacked.

After the January debate, Governor Andrew Cuomo retorted that Senator Cruz "doesn't know what New York values are because New York is in many ways the epitome of what formed this nation and what keeps it strong....We do believe in E Pluribus Unum, out of many come one, and his rhetoric is the exact opposite." Several other prominent New Yorkers weighed in, including Donald Trump, who suggested that New York's heroic response to 9/11 revealed its deepest values.

Cruz's comments provoked many other New Yorkers to express their opinions (mostly positive) about their city. The New York Times asked a cross-section of city residents their opinion on what constituted "New York values" a few days after Cruz's attack. Their responses: New Yorkers are diverse, friendly, ambitious, curious, tolerant, competitive, impatient, hustling and determined -- "we keep our heads high, no matter what."

A New York Daily News front page on January 15 put it more directly with a headline of "DROP DEAD, TED."

New Yorkers have seen it before
Cruz is certainly not the first politician to try to cast New York as a place of wanton ways with values at odds with those of the rest of the nation.

Republican attacks on New York Governor Al Smith when he ran unsuccessfully for president in 1928 focused on his Catholic religion, opposition to prohibition, and subservience to the New York City Democratic organization Tammany Hall, all allegedly emblematic of his hometown, New York City. Smith's campaign theme song, "The Sidewalks of New York," and his "New York accent" in campaign speeches confirmed how ingrained New York City's culture and folkways were.

In 1960, conservative Republican Senator Barry Goldwater expressed a wish that "we could tell New York to kiss our [expletive] and we could really start a conservative party." In 1963, he suggested the nation would be better off if the east coast could be sawed off and floated out to sea. But everyone understood that New York, with its liberal politics, cultural influence and economic power, was his main bugaboo.

The next year, Goldwater won the Republican presidential nomination over New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, whom Goldwater labeled a liberal New York spendthrift. His supporters sniped that Rockefeller was immoral for having divorced his first wife and remarried, something they vaguely insinuated had to do with loose New York morals.

Historical views of "New York values"
Fending off attacks is easier than defining precisely what New York's values are. That's no surprise, given New York's long history, complexity, and our proclivity for vigorous debate among ourselves.

In 1939, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia assailed critics who asserted that his city was "a money mart...a synonym for Wall Street...New Yorkers are impolite." New York is "a warm-hearted and generous community," he insisted. But with a touch of that New York pride bordering on arrogance that can irritate outsiders, the mayor added that his city was so far superior to others that "we could afford to stop for the next twenty years and we would still be slightly ahead of the procession."

Historian Milton Klein wrote in 1978 that New Yorkers could be thought of as "cosmopolitan Americans: energetic...materialistic and brash but also convivial, humane, tolerant and idealistic. That one state alone should be able to encompass in itself so many of the virtues and limitations of the American people is a measure of New York's unique role in the nation's history."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a statement to the 9/11 Commission in 2003, eloquently described his city's cosmopolitan pre-eminence:

To people around the world, New York City embodies what makes this nation great. That's a function of our status as the world's financial capital, driven not only by Wall Street but [also] our international prominence in such fields as broadcasting, the arts, entertainment and medicine. Such is New York's importance that to a great extent, as goes its economy, so goes the country's. If Wall Street is destroyed, Main Street will suffer. Beyond that, New York embraces the intellectual and religious freedom and cultural diversity that makes us truly the world's second home. We are a magnet for the talented and ambitious from every corner of the globe. In short, we embody the strengths of America's freedom.

Governor Mario Cuomo (1983-1995) saw enlightened, progressive public policies as New York's defining trait. He defined "the New York Idea" as "government using its resources to help create private sector growth, then requiring those who benefit from that growth to share some part of it so that hope and opportunity are extended to those who have not been as fortunate."

Andrew Cuomo, the current governor, emphasizes that New Yorkers are exceptionally energetic, innovative, determined, and resilient. "At every difficult moment in our nation's history, New York has emerged as...the progressive leader in the nation," he explained in his inaugural address in 2011. "In New York, we may have big problems, but we confront them with big solutions," he said in his State-of-the State message the next year. He often includes in his speeches a quotation from essayist E.B. White: "New York is to the nation what the white church spire is to the village, the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying the way is up."

Two sets of "New York values" seem to stand out
Of course, historians may differ on what New York's most important values are. But looking back over our history, two sets of values seem to stand out.

One is openness, inclusion, and tolerance. Since colonial times when the Dutch controlled the city, the emphasis has been on diversity, valuing individual differences, letting people alone, and providing opportunity for work, advancement, and getting ahead.

New York has been open, welcoming, accommodating, and supportive of newcomers. Over time, more immigrants have come in through New York than any other city. Our city and state have been at the forefront of social justice campaigns and civil rights reforms. For instance, the NAACP was founded in New York City in 1909 and New York passed the nation's first state civil rights law, in 1945. New York City probably has the most diverse population of any major city in the world.

A second is optimism and resilience. New Yorkers are undeterred by setbacks, springing back from adversity and continuing forward progress. It dates back at least to the origins of the state. The Revolutionary New York provincial congress were rebels-on the run, moving from New York City to White Plains to Fishkill to Kingston ahead of advancing British troops. They finished hastily drafting New York's first state constitution in April 1777.

When the British threatened Kingston, the new government became a government-on-the run, simply dispersing, reassembling later at Poughkeepsie, and keeping the fledgling state intact. The first governor, George Clinton, calmly took the oath of office in August 1777 and then hurried off to lead a battle against the enemy where he barely escaped capture.

New Yorkers keep going and are known for against-the-odds triumphs. For instance, mockery and stonewalling by the power structure inspired New York's great women's rights advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton on to more tenacious campaigning. Denied the right to vote, she defiantly ran for Congress from New York City in 1868, losing but making a point about women's political stature. Jackie Robinson was undeterred by racist taunts and threats and became the first black man to play professional baseball, with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and later an inspirational civil rights leader.

The New York City Fire Department mourned its dead after 9/11 and then got right back to work, creatively revising its mission, policies, and training to meet the new threat of terrorism.

New York City not only survived the attacks but came back more resilient and stronger than ever.

The debate over "New York values" is likely to continue
New York mirrors the nation in its complexity and resists tidy categorization. Its values are hard to pin down but its history is rightly a source of inspiration and pride, with tolerance and resilience at the core.

Activist, writer, and New York City First Lady, Chirlane McCray, refuted Ted Cruz by citing the city's steadfastness in challenging times."That fighting spirit, that gut instinct to join together in times of hardship, that refusal to leave behind the most vulnerable among us -- these are the values that have defined New Yorkers from the very beginning."

As the presidential campaign moves along, we can expect to hear more about "New York values." When we do, we need to keep historical insights and perspectives in mind.

***
Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne lives in Guilderland, New York. He is the author of The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
'New York Values' in Historical Perspective Tue, 16 Feb 2016 01:24:03 +0000
Did Bill De Blasio's Tirade Help Andrew Cuomo Get His Groove Back? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5886:did-bill-de-blasios-tirade-help-andrew-cuomo-get-his-groove-back http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5886:did-bill-de-blasios-tirade-help-andrew-cuomo-get-his-groove-back Cuomo labor day parade

Gov. Cuomo at the Labor Day parade (photo: The Governor's Office via flickr)


On Thursday Governor Andrew Cuomo, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, held a rally to announce a campaign to make New York the first state in the nation with a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

"So Mr. Vice President, today I announce that I will propose to the New York state legislature not just $15 for fast-food workers, because a fast-food worker deserves $15 an hour, construction workers deserve $15 an hour, and home healthcare aides deserve $15 an hour, and taxi-cab drivers deserve $15 an hour, and every working man and woman in the State of New York deserves $15 an hour as a minimum wage - and we are not going to stop until we get it done!" Cuomo said, his voice rising.

It was a triumphant moment for the governor, and for unions and progressive groups who have worked for the last year to get Cuomo on board with a $15 hourly minimum wage. It is being called a major about-face by many watchers, including some who note that Cuomo now supports a policy his rival, Mayor Bill de Blasio, has been pushing for quite some time and that Cuomo had previously dismissed.

The move, along with other recent Cuomo plays, is in striking contrast to the Cuomo of last spring, who some confidants and legislators describe as aimless, distracted, and maybe a little bit bored.

Now, though, any such perception has dissipated, perhaps in large part thanks to de Blasio's exasperated June tirade against the governor, which came at the end of this year's legislative session. Harsh, damning words from the mayor may have been the challenge Cuomo needed in order to reinvigorate.

De Blasio pulled no punches, boldly saying Cuomo had made promises he didn't intend to keep, is vindictive, and backed policies that were harmful to New York City. "And what I believe here is the governor worked with the Senate in some cases to inhibit the work of the Assembly, to inhibit the agenda that New York City put forward," de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis in a June interview, before sitting down with City Hall reporters to reiterate his message.

Cuomo had used de Blasio as a punching bag for months before de Blasio's explosion, even apparently giving publications blind quotes attacking the mayor. But with the feud spilling out into the open, observers say Cuomo was freed in a way, even given a gift--a political opponent to war with in the open.

The mayor's declaration of war was something pundits and sources close to the Cuomo administration say the governor desperately needed. "The governor is at his best when he has someone to duel in the political arena," one Albany insider told Gotham Gazette. "It is also when he is apt to make mistakes, but he comes alive when he is going for the kill."

For some Democrats, de Blasio's tirade was a breath of fresh air - someone, they said, had finally called out the bully. Others, including members of the Cuomo administration saw it much differently. They heard it as the younger brother finally crying "Uncle!" because he had no other means of retaliation.

Sources within the Cuomo administration say they saw de Blasio's "tantrum" as an admission that he had failed at moving his agenda and was giving up any hope of future success in Albany. That appears to have left an opening for Cuomo to reassert himself on progressive issues - like minimum wage - that de Blasio has staked out.

Not very long ago, Cuomo was advocating a plan that would eventually raise the minimum wage to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state. He appeared to scoff at the Assembly's proposal that would have raised the minimum wage across the state to $15 by the end of 2018. "God bless them — shoot for the stars," Cuomo said, dismissively, in March at a stop in Rochester. The governor has repeatedly cited the Republican-controlled state Senate as a place where such progressive proposals go to die.

If Cuomo had made a major announcement on a $15 minimum wage a year ago, it would have appeared as though he had been dragged to the position kicking and screaming by The Working Families Party and de Blasio, who brokered a deal between the two to prevent a WFP-backed primary challenge to Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

At the time, Cuomo appeared to agree to back the mayor's proposal to allow the city to raise its minimum wage up to 30 percent higher than the state's (as well as other WFP-backed policies and a Democratic takeover of the state Senate). But this year Cuomo presented his own plan, which did not include giving the city a say over its wage, and was still short of what activists on the left were calling for.

But now, Cuomo has swooped in to champion the $15 wage, albeit on an extended phase-in timeline that would implement $15 per hour in New York City at the end of 2018 and state-wide in the middle of 2021.

Cuomo is notorious for refusing to move on proposals that he won't receive absolute credit for enacting into law. With de Blasio all but slain in Albany after a rough 2015 legislative session, Cuomo was freed to move on minimum wage and other progressive initiatives, knowing he could charge in and pick up the baton that he had knocked out of de Blasio's hands.

Meanwhile, Cuomo enjoys the benefits of being de Blasio's enemy, which boosts his standing with conservatives and moderates (and even some liberals) across the state. Cuomo's favorability ratings dropped to all-time lows this summer, but de Blasio's poll numbers are even lower.

"I'm not buying de Blasio gave him an overarching focus, because clearly the governor used the mayor for a punching bag from the very beginning of the administration, whether it be on the millionaire's tax or charter schools," said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College. "It certainly did exacerbate the relationship and gave Cuomo the opportunity to strike out at a perceived tormentor."

Cuomo and de Blasio have appeared to go out of their way to avoid each other at public events, though they did speak in person at a September 11th commemoration on Friday. Cuomo has either not invited the mayor to several, like his recent solidarity mission to Puerto Rico, or de Blasio has not appeared interested in attending, like for the governor's announcement of a new LaGuardia Airport.

Cuomo has appeared to jab at de Blasio when reporters ask why the two are not meeting at events, which have included several parades. He's also made efforts to strengthen relationships with sometime de Blasio antagonists like Comptroller Scott Stringer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and de Blasio ally City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Last Thursday, Cuomo was honored as "Man of the Year" by the city's largest police union, which is headed by de Blasio nemesis Patrick Lynch. "You deserve to be paid for the job you do," Cuomo told the officers, hinting at their dispute with the city over pay raises. Someone in the back of the room shouted back: "Tell de Blasio!"

Cuomo's feud with de Blasio appears to be helping insulate him from backlash he has faced from police unions for signing an executive order giving the Attorney General the ability to act as special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians.

"De Blasio has served as a foil for the governor with some groups," said Muzzio. "This conflict certainly enhances his influence with certain interests, especially with the Republican-controlled Senate."

Cuomo's moves on progressive issues may risk some of his goodwill with Republicans, but nevertheless, the governor has shown a renewed sense of urgency. It is energy that Cuomo has also been putting into efforts not easily labeled as progressive, such as Upstate economic development.

Pundits say they feel the Cuomo of the past few months is a stark contrast to the Cuomo of this legislative session, who shied away from public and media appearances for weeks at a time.

It's fairly easy to see why Cuomo may have been off his game.

His reelection bid was complicated by rebellious progressives and unions who felt Cuomo had delivered more on conservative causes than on Democratic ones. The governor was also reeling from the backlash he faced from shuttering the Moreland Commission. His campaign strategy to ignore his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, might have been more effective if Fordham professor Zephyr Teachout hadn't joined the Democratic primary. Her campaign quickly made Cuomo appear detached from voters, and at times exposed his tendencies as a bully.

Cuomo moved from a closer-than-expected election to face the death of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and the federal indictments of then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. He appeared ready to end the legislative session early after securing a number of education reforms that were fought tooth-and-nail by teachers unions (and opposed by de Blasio). But the pressure mounted on the governor to deliver deals on rent regulations, mayoral control of New York City schools, and other big-ticket items, all while the legislature remained in turmoil thanks to their leadership crises.

Virtually all of the deals reached were less than desired as far as de Blasio was concerned, with the one-year extension of mayoral control of schools an especially bitter pill - and perhaps the final nudge over the edge.

With session over and his legislative opponents out of town, Cuomo leaped into action, issuing an executive order to create a special prosecutor for police killings. This not only ingratiated Cuomo to many on his left, but also brought one of his main rivals - and a natural de Blasio ally - AG Eric Schneiderman, closer to Cuomo's hip.

A flurry of executive activity was capped off by the finding of his fast food wage board that workers in the industry should be paid a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Cuomo was lauded by union leaders and progressive elected officials; his achievements made for evidence in the effort to disprove de Blasio's accusations that the governor was hamstringing the progressive agenda.

And, they allowed the governor to demonstrate one of his favorite points: that he gets things done regardless of political ideology.

On Thursday, de Blasio's office quickly shot out a statement praising Cuomo's decision to advocate a $15 minimum wage but laced with language highlighting that Cuomo is late to the party the mayor's been leading.

"Nothing would do more to lift New Yorkers out of poverty and move our economy forward than raising the wage...We welcome the Governor's support for a $15 minimum wage – and New York City stands ready to help make it a reality," de Blasio's statement reads. "We have been doing all we can here in the city: affordable housing, Pre-K for All, increasing and expanding the living wage, and much more. But combating income inequality requires bold action on all levels of government. I urge Albany to act quickly."

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

]]>
Did Bill De Blasio's Tirade Help Andrew Cuomo Get His Groove Back? Sun, 13 Sep 2015 05:00:00 +0000
State Constitutional Convention: Holy Grail or Pandora's Box? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5861:state-constitutional-convention-holy-grail-or-pandoras-box http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5861:state-constitutional-convention-holy-grail-or-pandoras-box convention

photo: @NYSenDems


With a legislature now routinely shaken by major indictments, pressing issues left perpetually unresolved, and voter dissatisfaction with state government on the rise, some see a constitutional convention as perhaps the only way to bypass the legislature and institute serious reform. It just so happens that in 2017 voters will get to decide whether to have such a convention.

"A lot of the reforms people want to see don't need a convention to be instituted, but political will on the part of the legislature," said Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group, who was involved in the last conversation about holding a constitutional convention.

"The constitutional convention becomes a vessel that some pour their hopes into," says Horner. But, as supporters of a convention discovered in 1997, public support for conventions has proven to be unreliable when it comes time to vote to hold one.

This summer, a July 15 Siena College poll found 90 percent of New York voters feel government corruption is a serious problem. The same poll found that 69 percent of voters surveyed supported having a constitutional convention, which could reconfigure the state's governing document.

The poll results have boosted the hopes of those who see a constitutional convention, which would occur in 2019 if approved by voters in 2017, as the only real chance to fix state government. And yet the poll also contains chilling, bad news for those advocates: 75 percent of voters surveyed say they haven't heard anything about a constitutional convention.

Delegates could examine an untold number of changes to the constitution, but some of the areas advocates express interest in are better balancing the power between the executive and legislature; changing term limits; creating a full-time legislature; making pay-to-play politics illegal; and changing the redistricting process.

It's a familiar position for advocates who were involved the last time the topic came up in a serious way. Public support for constitutional conventions has proved to be a fragile thing in the past. "I think in general there was a lot of public discontent with state government not meeting budget deadlines; the business community was more upset then about taxes, as the government was less responsive to their concerns, and there was deep concern about local government issues," said professor Gerald Benjamin, who was appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo as Research Director of the Temporary State Commission on Constitutional Revision during the last discussion of a constitutional convention.

"There was a broad, but not deep, willingness to have a convention--but it dissipated when groups who were opposed to it for various reasons attacked it," Benjamin says.

State law requires that voters be asked every two decades whether they want a constitutional convention. The last such vote was in 1997. If the voters' answer is yes, they elect delegates to represent them at the convention, and any convention-negotiated changes are then put in front of voters as ballot referendums.

The last convention occurred in 1967 and was actually called by the legislature. Voters at that time said no to the proposed changes. The last voter-called convention occurred in 1938; voters rejected conventions in 1957, 1977, and 1997.

In 1997 initial public support for a convention was dissolved by the efforts of groups that were concerned measures they favored in the constitution would be done away with by conservative delegates. The League of Women Voters led opposition, attacking the delegate selection process for being accessible only to politicians and other connected individuals. "The League successfully argued that the convention would essentially be run by the same people who run the capital," said Horner.

But the League wasn't the only group opposed. Public labor unions poured considerable cash into the opposition movement, fearing pension guarantees could be stripped away. Environmental groups joined the opposition movement in fear that provisions that keep state parks "forever wild" would be excised. That fear stems in part from the fact that convention delegates are elected based on state Senate districts, which are drawn in favor of Republicans (the Assembly has Democrat-friendly lines).

"Some view the constitutional convention as putting state parks and other constitutional issues at risk," said Horner. "Last time there was public support, as Mario Cuomo created the rationale for a fourth term around a convention. And [Governor] Pataki later supported it, but it went down in flames because of the efforts of those who opposed it based on what they could lose over the efforts of those who had hopes for what they could gain."

Former Assembly Member Richard Brodsky, now a senior scholar at Demos who calls himself "the last surviving progressive supporter" of a constitutional convention, said that the fears of many of these groups are well founded. "Those issues should weigh very heavily on the conversation," said Brodsky. "There is a lot of good stuff in the constitution we don't want to lose. However, voters in this state are by and large thoughtful and educated. Those issues are likely to be supported again."

Horner said it is far too early in the current process to tell if the pro-convention side will have funds that match those of the opposing sides.

New York City voters have historically had the most say over whether there is a constitutional convention as mayoral elections fall at the same time as the ballot question is put to voters. That makes it easier for those for and against the convention to target the city's generally liberal voting base in the lead up to a convention vote. This time the vote will likely coincide with Mayor Bill de Blasio's re-election bid.

Convention supporters like Brodsky have proposed legislation that could alleviate concerns about delegate selection. One Brodsky-backed measure would have created a public financing system for delegates so that average citizens could run. It also would have changed the way voters selected delegates, making voters select individual delegates rather than a ticket.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican, has advocated banning delegates from being elected officials or lobbyists. "Our first priority must be to eliminate politics from the delegate selection process," said Kolb in a statement. "My "Peoples Convention To Reform New York Act" would require any elected or party official to vacate their office in order to serve as a delegate; and prohibit delegates from accepting contributions from PACs or party campaign committees. It is imperative that political influence is removed."

Horner said he expects a spike in debate over the convention in 2016 as reformers introduce bills to change the delegate selection process. "The problem some see is regular people--a teacher, a cop--would lose their career track if they ran as a delegate. They don't have the flexibility of a lawyer or a career politician. And who has the apparatus to run as a delegate other than an elected official?"

Barbara Bartoletti of The League of Women Voters said her group is focused on public education and has yet to take a position this time around. Her organization and other groups are teaming with the Rockefeller Institute for a series of public forums to inform New Yorkers about delegate selection and what issues are likely to come up.

"We want to make this more a people's convention than a politicians' convention," said Bartoletti. "I've lost a lot of faith in what the legislature will do. So we want to make sure we capture the public's imagination on how important this is. The more the public is involved, the better checks and balances we will have on the governor and legislature."

Many scholars and good-government groups are currently working on formulating proposals on how to reform the delegate process and how best to revamp the constitution, but many groups have yet to take a firm position.

"What we are really looking at is citizen education and at the end of 2016 we will come up with a position if we think enough changes have been made around the delegate selection process," said Bartoletti.

Brodsky said that voter education is key at this stage in the process and is encouraged that it has begun so early. "We have to start with very basic things, instead of focusing on ethics or reform of government. What is really important here is the social content: the rights of working people, the right to wilderness, a bill of rights - things that have a tremendous impact on people's daily lives."

Brodsky said that unlike the federal constitution, which is a "how-to document," most state constitutions are "what-to-do documents."

"The public needs to become aware of the social impact, the daily-life impact of the constitution," Brodsky argues. "We need to focus on questions like: 'Are the state's privacy laws adequate,' 'Should there be a right to higher education,' 'Should the state be able to use authorities to give public tax dollars to private corporations?'"

Brodsky says these are issues that may galvanize public interest, rather than questions of process and procedure.

Kolb stressed that while delegates would set the agenda, he would "hope that a Constitutional Convention would address areas such as ethics reform, government spending, debt accumulation, and unfunded mandates – just to name a few."

Meanwhile, many interested parties are watching to see how much energy Gov. Andrew Cuomo expends on the issue of holding a convention.

"Reformers were remarkably reticent due to concerns about who might be elected as delegates," said Professor Benjamin of efforts related to the 1997 ballot question. "The legislature was presumptively hostile, was hands-off, but the one thing we did have was the great advocate for constitutional change in Mario Cuomo. Had he been re-elected I believe we would have had a larger conversation, as gubernatorial involvement has been shown to make the question of a convention much closer."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed support for a convention during his 2010 run for governor but has been quiet on the topic recently. Benjamin points out that most governors are opposed to the status quo, but this time reformers have Cuomo's budget powers in their sights.

In an interview earlier this year, Brodsky told Gotham Gazette that he thought one of the prime questions facing a constitutional convention would be the governor's considerable budget powers, which basically allow the governor to enact the executive budget through extenders, without legislative approval.

Cuomo spokesperson Richard Azzopardi told Gotham Gazette that Cuomo still supports a constitutional convention.

Talk of a possible convention started earlier than normal this cycle as advocates began calling for a convention in light of the 2009 Senate coup, which was enabled in part by Gov. Eliot Spitzer's abrupt resignation. State law did not specifically allow for Gov. David Paterson to name his successor as Lieutenant Governor. The Lieutenant Governor would have theoretically been able to break the coup by voting with Senate Democrats. Paterson eventually did name Richard Ravitch to the position at the urging of good government groups, and the appointment held up in the courts. Regardless, the drama did lead to conversation about a convention.

Mario Cuomo suggested in 2009 that rank-and-file legislators could support a convention as a means of regaining credibility with the public. "Why are people afraid of fundamental change?" Cuomo asked The New York Times rhetorically. "You don't like three men in a room, or three women in a room? Then change it."

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

]]>
State Constitutional Convention: Holy Grail or Pandora's Box? Tue, 25 Aug 2015 05:00:00 +0000