Gotham Gazette Sun, 16 May 2021 02:31:22 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) The State Legislature in a State of Emergency num limited senate

A near-empty chamber conducts Senate business (photo: NY Senate Media Services)

As New York has become the country’s epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo has stepped onto the national stage as New York's (and the region's) captain, coordinating the state's response to the outbreak with a profusion of executive orders and fireside chats from the State Capitol, streamed daily and with PowerPoint.

The governor has signed 11 executive orders, suspending dozens of laws, as he, his top aides, and public health officials respond to the most pressing needs presented by the emergency. He has been speaking regularly with President Trump and is leading a growing coalition of states in taking unified action to battle the novel coronavirus.

"I accept full responsibility," the governor said Friday when he signed a sweeping order to require all non-essential businesses statewide to close or stop having employees commute to work. "If someone is unhappy, somebody wants to blame someone, people complain about someone, blame me. There is no one else who is responsible for this decision."

While the Legislature retains some significant power in an emergency, like the ability to override any executive emergency decree, it so far has settled into a role of limited checks on Cuomo's executive power as the disaster unfolds. Few question the necessity of swift, resolute government during a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak in New York. But some watchdogs note the legislative branch has become marginal in governing during the crisis, while much of the state's complex legal and regulatory framework is pushed aside.

The governor's emergency powers come from a set of statutes known as the Executive Law, which give Cuomo virtually unilateral discretion to modify or suspend any law or regulation in a disaster. At his request, the governor's power in such circumstances was recently expanded through legislation passed by the two Democratic majorities of the Legislature, along with a $40 million package to help him fight the virus.

"The governor has very broad power to set aside, modify provisions of state and local law in a disaster to address the disaster," said Evan Davis, senior counsel at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb and former counsel to Governor Mario Cuomo in the 1980s. "And the limit on that power is: the Legislature may terminate...anything that the governor has done."

"They do have an ability to pull the governor back, but whether or not they have the interest in doing so is another question entirely," said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a good government watchdog.

The reasons are complicated. The State Legislature is a huge, two-house, many-member body that operates on majority rule, and simply cannot act as quickly as the governor. Because of its congregational nature, its day-to-day operations have been profoundly disrupted by social distancing mandates (somewhat unique to the coronavirus, as opposed to a hurricane, terrorist attack, or many other emergency events). And the speed of new information about the outbreak and the number of new directives being issued by state, city, and federal officials daily is unprecedented in recent history.

On March 3, the Legislature passed and Cuomo quickly signed the bill freeing up $40 million in state funds to go toward emergency coronavirus management and amending the Executive Law to give the governor greater powers during an emergency, which will not expire until April 30, 2021, a move that has raised concerns among advocates like Horner.

The amended law gives Cuomo the power to suspend any law and authorizes him to issue "any directive" as long as it is "necessary to cope with the disaster." But the statute retains an important clause, which gives the Legislature power to terminate any order of the governor's through concurrent resolution. A majority vote in both chambers is sufficient to block any executive action.

"So it's sort of important that the Legislature stays open for business at the capacity to act, otherwise they lack all capacity to be a check on an absolute power by the chief executive," Davis said.

"Obviously you want to defer greatly to the chief executive in this kind of situation but absolute power is never a good idea," he added.

How exactly the Legislature "stays open for business" poses another challenge, with three lawmakers already testing positive for COVID-19, all in the Assembly, and activity in the chambers reduced to a trickle as government employees move mostly to remote work. Davis suggests the Legislature can use its termination power under the Executive Law as a check on Cuomo, to bring him to the table in setting the parameters for executive orders.

There is no provision in state law that requires the governor to give advance notice of executive orders to the Legislature, Davis noted.

"We are working closely with the Executive and the Assembly," wrote Gary Ginsburg, a spokesperson for the State Senate majority conference, by email. Spokespeople for Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Cuomo (all Democrats) did not respond to inquiries about the nature of communication among the leaders around executive orders, or whether norms around their vetting are being established.

Legislators have returned to Albany to pass some key bills, including paid sick leave, doing so using a special new approach to social distancing while debating and voting in the chambers.

Having moved largely to tele-commuting and facing the pressures posed by the outbreak, Horner fears legislators may have also lost ground in negotiating the state budget, which is due April 1.

"The governor is in the driver's seat to begin with, the Legislature now really is not even in the front seat anymore. They've moved to the back seat when it comes to the budget," he said.

Budget negotiations are happening, and legislators may return to the capital this week, possibly to vote on a deal if one comes together. Cuomo has insisted that legislators should continue to travel to the capital to do their work and pass a budget before the April 1 deadline, which starts the new fiscal year. He’s also said he wants to include a variety of policy decisions in the budget deal, an annual Albany practice but where the governor is potentially able to exercise even more leverage this year.

"It's not like they haven't thought about the [Executive Law], they just passed an amendment to it a couple of weeks ago,” Horner said of legislators. “They are well aware of their powers, they are well aware they could put the brakes on the governor if they wished, and there's no evidence that they wished to do so.”

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The State Legislature in a State of Emergency Mon, 23 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Jan. 4-8 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday January 8

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Penn Station rendering, via Governor Cuomo's office on flickr; Mayor de Blasio's signs paid parental leave personnel order for nonunion city employees, via Ed Reed for the Mayor's Office

Penn Station rendering via gov

bdb paid parental leave


1. New Deputy Mayor: On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Dr. Herminia Palacio will take over as Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, filling a position that had been vacant for four months. Homelessness is an especially key issue for Mayor de Blasio and his administration, as they work to remedy an increasing homelessness crisis.

2. Cuomo’s Executive Order: Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order on Sunday requiring all homeless people on the streets be moved into shelters when temperatures fall below freezing, and ordering homeless shelters to extend their hours. The move has been met with some criticism, in part because the city already provides much of the same protections to homeless people. [Read: Something Cuomo & De Blasio Agree On: City Shelters Need Improvement]

3. Cuomo’s 2016 Agenda: Speaking on NY1, Gov. Cuomo said ethics reform will be on the top of his agenda: “I’m going to push the legislature very hard to adopt more aggressive ethics legislation, more disclosure, more enforcement.” Cuomo also mentioned economic development and “social justice,” namely the “high unemployment among young minority males,” as being important to him, and has also called to overhaul Penn Station in an upgrade that could cost about $3 billion. The governor has spent the week unveiling key pieces of his agenda, including several infrastructure-related plans. [Read: Corruption, Elections Loom Over Lengthy 2016 Legislative Agenda & Predictions! Experts Look Ahead to New York Politics in 2016]

4. Minimum Wage Hikes: Mayor de Blasio announced Wednesday that city employees, including workers contacted through nonprofits, will see their minimum wage increased to $15 an hour by 2018 in a move that will impact an estimated 50,000 workers. Governor Cuomo is expected to make a statewide $15 minimum wage one of the focuses of his State of the State speech next week.

5. Paid Parental Leave Born: On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio signed a personnel order to provide paid parental leave to roughly 20,000 New York City employees. The order provides six weeks of paid time off for parental leave. [Read: De Blasio Moves on Paid Parental Leave]

$3 billion is the price tag for Gov. Cuomo’s push to remake Penn station, the Wall Street Journal reports.

22% decrease in traffic deaths since Mayor de Blasio launched Vision Zero, the New York Post reports.

1.7% overall decrease in major crime in New York City in 2015, according to statistics released by the NYPD, though certain categories were up, including murder.

50,000 city workers will earn $15 per hour by the end of 2018 under pay raises announced by Mayor de Blasio on Wednesday.

20,000 nonunion municipal employees will be allowed up to 6 weeks of paid parental leave thanks to a new measure signed by Mayor de Blasio, Gotham Gazette reports.

450,000 New Yorkers, give or take, will be able to save upwards of $400 a year on their public transportation expenses now that a new Commuter Benefits Law has gone into effect, Gotham Gazette reports.

26 City Council members signed a letter asking Mayor de Blasio to have his agencies find ways to reduce spending by about 5% before he release his next preliminary budget, Gotham Gazette reports.

129 bills vetoed by Cuomo in 2015, according to Politico New York

It was a good week for Herminia Palacio, who became the new Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (though it is also tough for Palacio in that she is taking one of the most challenging jobs in city government).

It was a bad week for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who will pay a $7,000 fine for accepting gifts from a consulting firm during her run for speaker (though it is also good for Mark-Viverito that the issue is being put behind her).

Around this time 146 years ago, on January 3, 1870, ground was broken for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Around this time 50 years ago, on January 4, 1966, during the longest transit strike in New York history (which shut down subways and buses for 12 days), Mike Quill, then-president of the transport workers union, criticized city officials during a press conference broadcast by WNYC. He was arrested days later.

Around this time 69 years ago, on January 6, 1947, the Supreme Court upheld rent controls when they refused to hear a case by New York landlords who wished to raise rents.

Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max appeared on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show on Wednesday to discuss the year ahead in New York politics.

40 Questions for New York Politics in 2016, by Ben Max

Corruption, Elections Loom Over Lengthy 2016 Legislative Agenda, by David Howard King

Good Government Groups Want Legislators to Pledge to Fight for Reform, by David Howard King

Majority of Council Members Urge Mayor to Identify Budget Savings, Samar Khurshid

City to Open Gun Courts to Expedite Prosecutions, by Meg O’Connor

Proposed Zoning Changes Raise Questions About Small Businesses, by Colin O’Connor

Something Cuomo & De Blasio Agree On: City Shelters Need Improvement, by Ben Max

Eyeing Diversity, New Push for Demographic Data on Community Board Members, by Samar Khurshid

Bill Mandates Review of Criminal Justice Programs, by Samar Khurshid

At Homelessness Forum, Manhattanites Voice Local Concerns on Pressing Issue, by Ryan Brady

Time for the Mayor and the Governor to Work Together, by Ben Max (opinion)

More Evidence Punitive NYPD Youth Programs Fail, by Alex S. Vitale (opinion)

Paid Family Leave in NYC: Progressive Policy, Regressive Plan, by Arthur Cheliotes (opinion)

To Fix Penn Station, Think Smaller, by Adrian Untermyer (opinion)

A New York New Year's Resolution: End the AIDS Epidemic, by Doug Wirth (opinion)

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton spoke about the city’s falling crime rates and new gun courts initiative with Brian Lehrer on WNYC.

Incoming Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Herminia Palacio, discussed her new role at City Hall with Errol Louis on Inside City Hall.

NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max:

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

The Week That Was in New York Politics, Jan. 4-8 Fri, 08 Jan 2016 17:08:56 +0000
Executive Order Shifts Cuomo-Schneiderman Dynamic Cuomo Schneiderman executive order

Cuomo and Schneiderman (photo: Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)

When Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order on July 8 giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the authority to investigate police killings of unarmed civilians, he did something he rarely does: he empowered a rival. In doing so, Cuomo made clear that the results of the order would be up to the AG's office, thus alleviating some of the pressure on himself to address what he has called a "crisis of confidence" in the criminal justice system, especially in communities of color.

But instead of shifting responsibility to Schneiderman and moving as far as possible from the matter, the governor has trumpeted the move as a national model and had an event with Schneiderman where the pair briefed clergy on the order. Cuomo and Schneiderman - bitter rivals who have thrown personal jabs at each other and feuded over power, money, and policy - are now by most accounts attached at the hip in one very important sense.

District attorneys across that state, angry that their power has been undermined and fairness questioned, have united to attack the move. But Schneiderman and Cuomo, to the surprise of many Democrats, have stood together to swat away criticism. And now, as Schneiderman has announced his office's first investigation under the order into a death in police custody, the two top Democrats will be judged together on the results.

It was only a few months ago that Schneiderman was being touted by many Democratic state legislators as their progressive savior--the progressive who may primary Cuomo in 2018, the politician with enough strength to publicly challenge Cuomo to deliver for the party. Schneiderman repeatedly challenged Cuomo on ethics reform throughout a spring legislative session marred by corruption. He's called on Cuomo to call a special session to deal with ethics, to push sweeping reform yet seen and including details of the AG's own legislative package.

"I have read Genesis. There is no Biblical injunction that the legislature has to shut down shop on the 17th of June," Schneiderman said at a press conference in Manhattan earlier this year. "And I think the people of the State of New York would welcome a few extra days of session."

While still in session Cuomo shot back that it was "late in the day" for ethics negotiations, but sources close to Schneiderman continued to insist that Cuomo should act. Post-session, Cuomo has dismissed calls for bringing lawmakers back to the capital, saying there's no political will and it would be a waste of taxpayer money.

Now, things have changed drastically in the Cuomo-Schneiderman dynamic. Schneiderman has quieted his rhetoric on reform and a number of insiders tell Gotham Gazette the AG has insisted to them that he will not run for governor if Cuomo seeks a third term in 2018.

"The relationship has changed; they are in this together," said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College. "This is actually good politically and policy-wise. The governor should share his powers with the attorney general where it is appropriate and the governor and the attorney general should be working together. They are members of the same party."

Cuomo took great pains during the executive order signing to indicate that he was not coming down on one side or the other of the debate about how to better deliver justice in instances of police killings of unarmed civilians. He said the order was meant to deal with a "perceived conflict," perception being that DAs are too close to local police departments to investigate them.

"I kept waiting to see how the governor was going to screw him," one legislator with ties to Schneiderman told Gotham Gazette when talking on the condition of anonymity. "It's hard not to think the worst of everything Andrew does."

Schneiderman has since been tasked with dealing with the fallout, working out just how his office will interact with district attorneys and local police and any public backlash. But Cuomo did participate in the clergy briefing on the executive order with Schneiderman and the two appear committed to ensuring that the new arrangement begins smoothly. After all, they each have a lot on the line, now tied in what can only be highly fraught circumstances.

It is still surprising for some to see the two working together. In June of this year Schneiderman's team called foul after Cuomo's office circulated a 22-question survey asking other agencies to rate Schneiderman's performance.

The last time both men worked so closely was during the activities of the short-lived Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. Cuomo had supported giving the AG the powers to investigate public corruption during his time in that office, but resisted doing so as governor, despite requests from Schneiderman.

However, when the governor empaneled the Moreland Commission he did work with Schneiderman and allowed him to name a number of appointees to the commission. Schneiderman remained quiet as reports broke that the Cuomo administration was meddling with the commission and steadfastly declined comment after Cuomo cut a deal to shutter it. However, sources from Schneiderman's office indicated at the time that their boss was frustrated and embarrassed.

After U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara seized the Moreland records and indicated the law might have been violated in closing the commission, Schneiderman faced questions about what his involvement was. He soon had a conspicuous lunch meeting with Bharara as if the US Attorney was giving him a public "all clear."

Cuomo teamed with the legislature in his first term to strip control of millions of dollars in settlement funds away from Schneiderman, and it was thought that Cuomo had worked fervently behind the scenes trying to prevent Schneiderman from becoming AG in the first place.

The political tides have shifted dramatically since then. Cuomo has been on a fence-mending tour targeting his liberal base since a fairly disastrous legislative session. Shortly after session ended Mayor Bill de Blasio openly questioned Cuomo's motivations and loyalty to progressive issues. More recently, Schneiderman and several other progressive leaders stood with Cuomo to celebrate the fast food wage board called by the governor having recommended an eventual $15 per hour minimum wage.

Cuomo Schneiderman wage rally

With the executive order Cuomo may have effectively silenced Schneiderman as a critic and made sure their fates are tied together for the length of the order as they both fend off slings and arrows from Republicans, district attorneys, and other law enforcement.

On Monday, Schneiderman announced that his office's "Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit will investigate the death of Raynette Turner, consistent with Executive Order No. 147 and a conforming order to be issued by the Governor at my request."

Turner, a black mother of eight, died in police custody in Mount Vernon after being arrested on a shoplifting charge.

Soon after word came from Schneiderman's office, the governor released a corresponding statement. "Today, the Attorney General informed my office that he intends to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute any unlawful acts arising from the death of Raynette Turner, who died last week while in the custody of the Mount Vernon Police Department," Cuomo said.

His statement continued: "Ms. Turner's death is a tragedy for her loved ones, and it raises questions not just from her family, but from her neighbors, elected officials, community members and the media – questions that deserve answers. This kind of situation is the reason that I signed Executive Order 147 last month, because the justice system must have the trust of our communities. With the Attorney General as special prosecutor leading an independent investigation, I believe that we can begin to restore trust, eliminate any perceived conflicts of interest, and let the community know, once and for all, that justice truly is blind."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Executive Order Shifts Cuomo-Schneiderman Dynamic Tue, 04 Aug 2015 23:23:52 +0000