Volume 80, Number 30 | December 23 - 29, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Cleaning up Albany
Earlier this year, when former Mayor Ed Koch launched his New York Uprising effort to reform Albany, some people didn’t appear to be taking him seriously.
Well, they are now.
At 86, Koch is spearheading a very real and very badly needed movement to fix Albany, and the momentum has been snowballing.
On Monday, at a City Hall press conference, Koch was joined by about a dozen state senators from New York City and nearby counties — including local Senator Daniel Squadron — who all stressed that passing a package of bills closely corresponding to the reforms in the Uprising pledge is their “Job No. 1” next month. In fact, Squadron and the others said, these reform initiatives should be passed on the first day of session. We wholeheartedly agree.
It’s great to see Koch returning to his reform roots in his later years, just as Eleanor Roosevelt did before him. And there couldn’t be a better moment. Confidence in Albany has been at an all-time low. The hijacking of the state Senate in the summer of 2009 by Pedro Espada and his cronies was a sordid chapter, turning our state government into a pathetic joke.
Yet, Albany didn’t have far to fall to reach that nadir. In 2004, the Brennan Center for Justice at N.Y.U. School of Law found New York State’s Legislature to be America’s worst and most anti-democratic; members didn’t have to be present to vote, and most votes passed with 95 percent support, the study found. Then, of course, there are the regularly late state budgets, a perennial embarrassment.
Subsequently, thanks to reform measures by Scott Stringer when he was in the Assembly, significant strides were made — for one, members must at least now actually be in attendance to vote.
Nevertheless, there remain serious, endemic problems that need to be addressed — and redistricting tops the list. It’s natural that legislators would want to draw their own district lines, thereby helping ensure their re-election over and over again — but that’s precisely why an independent, nonpartisan process is needed.
When we asked Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver about redistricting back in April, he shrugged off the idea of removing the process from lawmakers’ hands, noting, “If you give it to a bunch of professors, the community could be harmed.”
However, Koch — in addition to getting the majority of both Houses to sign the Uprising pledge — also got Governor-elect Cuomo to commit to it, and to avow that he’d veto any bill in which legislators are allowed to redraw their own lines. Kudos to Cuomo for that principled stand.
In addition to Assembly and Senate lines, congressional districts are also due to be redrawn next year — and it’s all done at the state level.
Silver on Tuesday issued a statement saying, “We will work in a collaborative way to come up with a redistricting process that protects the rights of minority voters, keeps public officials accountable to the people and provides strong representation for all New Yorkers.” Disappointingly, the words “independent, nonpartisan commission” were noticeably absent.
The other two Uprising pledge items — ethics reform and a GAAP balanced budget — are also vitally important. On ethics reform, we agree that an independent oversight commission is needed to assure accountability, while stronger disclosure laws will improve standards of conduct. As for a GAAP balanced budget, it will “take the politics out of budgeting” and stop the state from spending beyond its means.
It’s now up to legislators who signed the Uprising pledge to put their money where their pen is — and vote for these reforms first thing next month. New Yorkers deserve nothing less.