Albany Legislature Is a Disgrace

Tuesday, 27 Jul 2010 12:17 PM

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Between 1928 and 1932, the Empire State was led by Gov. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR followed in the footsteps of Alfred E. Smith, also a Democrat.

Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican, created our great state public universities.

 These outstanding governors set the standards for leadership and social programs that lifted New York — and by emulation the rest of the country — into the modern era.

There were other exemplary governors as well.

From 1975 to 1982, Gov. Hugh Carey was part of that tradition. During his eight years in office, Carey saved New York City from bankruptcy and New York State from financial ruin. By virtue of the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, our states are prohibited from applying for bankruptcy and the protections of the federal bankruptcy courts, which assure an orderly payout of the bankrupt's assets.

Carey's contribution to the well-being of the state and city he loves is not yet appreciated, but someday he will be recognized for his many achievements, perhaps by naming the Battery Tunnel in his honor, as suggested by our current lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch. (The latter's considerable talents are currently being wasted by Gov. Paterson, who was prescient in his appointment of Ravitch, but who unwisely declines to use his services.)

The leaders of our state Legislature are not well known. The two I worked with over an extended period were the speaker of the Assembly, Stanley Fink, a Democrat, and majority leader of the Senate, Warren Anderson, a Republican.

Compared with today's leaders, Fink and Anderson were giants devoted to the public's needs.

Regrettably, the two current leaders, Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and Majority Leader John Sampson, also a Democrat, are not in the Fink-Anderson tradition of public service.

Indeed, at this moment, New York Uprising, a political action committee, in which I have a leadership role, is dedicated to cleaning the Augean Stables known now as the dysfunctional Albany Legislature.

New York Uprising has designated Silver and Sampson as "enemies of reform." Their names and many others are posted on our website, www.nyuprising.org.

About six months ago, along with Dick Dadey of Citizens Union and Henry Stern of New York Civic and others, I decided to undertake this crusade. We are taking on the state Legislature, which almost every New Yorker sees as a disgrace, shaming us with its antics and its inability to adopt a state budget.

As we speak, adoption of the budget is more than three months late.

That lateness is not simply a delay without consequences. Municipalities dependent on state funding, as well as nongovernmental agencies similarly dependent, are suffering and have to privately or publicly borrow monies to keep operating — paying interest on loans.

Commentators now compare New York with the bankrupt and equally scorned state of California.

In an effort to bring our state back from the brink, New York Uprising has asked each Albany legislator and challenger running in the upcoming November election to pledge to vote for and implement three common sense, good government reforms:
  1. Impartial and independent reapportionment (normally, legislators use reapportionment to draw lines that will re-elect them).
  2. Stronger ethics enforcement, with a State Ethics Commission having jurisdiction over the executive and legislative branches, campaign contributions reform, and comprehensive financial disclosure requiring public reporting so that we will finally know exactly how much legislators make from outside sources and who they do business with.
  3. The adoption of budgets that are not only timely, but subject to generally accepted accounting principles, with no gimmicks.
All of the candidates running for governor, attorney general and controller have signed on. Interestingly, all of the Republican senators — 29 of them, led by their caucus leader, Dean Skelos — joined in, as did Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican.

However, both Democratic leaders, Silver and Sampson, did not, and about half of the Democratic senators stood with them in the "enemies" column.

So now it's up to the voters. New York Uprising has belled the cats who are depriving our state of good government.

We'd urge voters not to vote for any Assembly member or state senator who is listed as an "enemy of reform."

Limit your choices, taking into consideration their political ideology, to those who are "heroes of reform."

In our lifetime there will never be another such opportunity to clean up Albany. If we fail to harness this righteous public anger and change the culture of our capital, then after November, you will have only yourself to blame.


Ed Koch was mayor of New York City. His e-mail address is: eikoch@bryancave.com

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