Bruno: Half The Cause Of An Ugly Problem
Joe Bruno is gone.
One half of the leadership team that has led the moribund, pathetic, disgraceful NYS Legislature to a record of ultimate dysfunction is stepping down and is not rerunning for election.
We could speculate that his gray area, playing with firms, doing business with the State and the on-going federal probe into this wrongdoing, is the real cause for his sudden abandonment of the crown he's worn for some 14 years. That wrongdoing - or is it questionable behavior - typifies the outrageous conduct that is accepted as on-going business in Albany today.
Placing personal needs, fundraising, redistricting to insure reelection, partisan politics above the needs of the people and the needs of the State have been the major contribution of the legislative leadership of Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
This column will not praise Bruno for his service. It will condemn him for perverting the system of democracy to serve his party, his members, his pocketbook (and theirs), his retention as Majority Leader, all at the expense of the needs of New York State.
Good riddance Joe Bruno.
To those sending us their praise of the retiring leader, shame on you. You continue to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.
We should be applauding Bruno's departure and setting standards for Dean Skelos, the Long Island Republican taking his place and also for Malcolm Smith, the heir apparent to the leadership position should the Democrats take control of the State Senate. We should be shouting that it's time for a change.
The new State Senate unshackled by the totalitarian rule of Bruno has a chance to change. Funds, staff, mailings can be dispersed equally by district, or by need, and not be the party of the member or how vulnerable the member is to losing the seat to the other party.
The above admonition is not intended only for Skelos who was raised by a Republican system, which stayed in power by using state money to supplement it's election effort. It remained in power by cutting deals with the Democratic Assembly leadership to draw lines not for the good of the communities of New York State, but based on getting party members reelected.
Mr. Bruno has been part of the ugly cabal which has put special interests above state interests; which has put member's interests above the people's interests; and who time and again sold out, or worse, courted corruption abusing the state budget for partisan or financial reasons.
Mr. Skelos and Mr. Smith can change all of that. The members of the NYS Senate can change all of that. Today is the first day of a new State Senate and in January, we will likely see Skelos or Smith lead the body. But will it be in a new direction?
That will be largely the decision of Skelos or Smith; but it will be the responsibility of your state legislator who has spent many years going along to get ahead.
Perhaps once in a generation an invitation to change for the better is handed to a legislative body. This is such a time.
Eliot Spitzer was elected on a platform of reform. Sadly he banged heads with the legislature, was out of control with his own behavior, and is now a footnote of history.
David Paterson who came from the State Senate, spoke the reform game as well as any. He sat with this writer the week before his election as lieutenant governor and preached of change.
He then became governor and to date has gone along to get by.
This is his opportunity - handed to him by Joe Bruno and perhaps the Feds. This could be his chance to champion the cause of the Senate Dems, raise money for them with the understanding that it will no longer be business as usual in the State Capital. This governor can start to exert himself by either making it clear he will use his office and his veto to reject bad government. He can assert himself now. He can reject every spending bill that is not in the best interest of the state. He can step forward today and say no more self-serving government and tie his support in the swing seats to commitments for reform.
Malcolm Smith and Dean Skelos are likewise in a position to bring change. They can during this election, spell out how they will each lead their caucus.
To the people of this State, to the people in the two swing districts of Queens, this is not a matter of Democrat or Republican; this is not Addabbo v. Maltese or Padavan v. Gennaro. This is the election of the party which will lead the NYS Senate.
In which direction will that be?
Ask your State Senator if their choice for senate majority leader will bring about true reform.
Ask your State Senator if all members should be treated equally no matter which party they come from.
Then, vote for change.
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HENRY J. STERN
Normally one views a state legislative session in terms of what constructive legislation is passed. In better years, when the Three Men in a Room could agree, there were some accomplishments. In worse years, when the Three Men detested each other, very little got through the triple filter, and conditions stayed pretty much as they were. The historic record was bad enough to give New York State the reputation of having the most dysfunctional legislature in the country, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU.
This year, the legislature has been substantially worse than in the past. In 2008, with two of the Three Men being rookies, the triumvirate is seriously out of balance. There are fewer restraints to the passage of special interest legislation supported by substantial contributors to the campaigns of incumbent elected officials. The reform initiatives appear to have disappeared with Governor Spitzer. They were offered to the legislature by Governor Paterson when the session was about to adjourn.
Special interest legislation generally enhances the privileges of a small, or a large, group at the expense of the general public, due process or the state treasury. Such laws are the result of pressure, generally accompanied by money, which comes from the army of lobbyists who line the corridors of the Capitol.
The situation is worsened by the fact that two of the Three Men have political problems and are more vulnerable this year than in the past. The new Republican leader, Dean Skelos of Nassau County, is comparable to Senator Bruno, without Bruno's wit and charm. He is desperately trying to hold on to his tiny 32-30 majority in the state senate in the face of what may, or may not, be a Democratic landslide.
Senator Skelos is desperate for labor's support, or indeed for anyone's support, in his effort to stem the tide of history and demographics. So he will pass bills which normally would die in the chamber which is supposed to be more fiscally responsible, and respectful of the powers of the state.
Speaker Sheldon Silver also has a problem - a primary for his own Assembly seat on the Lower East Side. His neighborhood is changing - the elderly Jews are dying off or moving to Florida, and his base in middle-income housing developments is being somewhat yuppified.
Silver is expected to defeat his primary rivals, especially if he has more than one. It takes work, however, in the heat of the summer, and money, which for him is ample.
Good politicians never neglect their base, whether it is their caucus or their district.
Governor Paterson, not up for election until 2010, is relatively free of immediate pressure from lobbyists. He can, if he wishes, stand up for the status quo. That used to be a bad thing, but when bills enacted by both houses would leave the state significantly worse off than it is today, the status quo becomes a preferred alternative to the vitiation of government.
One of the areas of concern is the legislative micro-management of clearly local issues that should be decided by a city whose population exceeds eight million.
The City has, over the years, set aside certain lanes of traffic for use by buses at particular hours. This designation is made to speed travel by the 40 or more people who may be riding a bus, rather than have the lanes blocked by automobiles carrying far fewer people (maybe one or two). The idea is eminently reasonable. In order to discourage car and taxi drivers from blocking bus lanes, the city wants to place enforcement cameras in front of buses to identify and ticket violators. This is like the cameras that have monitored busy intersections since 1993.
An unenforceable law is the equivalent of no law. You can't afford to have police standing on every corner arguing with drivers to whom they give tickets. If the summons is to be disputed, do it in court. To install the cameras, the law requires permission from the state. A slam dunk? Absolutely not.
The bill was killed in the Assembly Transportation Committee, whose chairman, David Gantt, is from Rochester. He had offered to allow cameras to be used in another situation, provided they had qualities obtainable only from a particular manufacturer.
The problem in Albany, however, goes far beyond any one individual, whether it is Silver, Paterson or Skelos, or any of their predecessors. It involves excessive state power and limited city authority. The majority of municipal laws or ordinances, except for statutes protecting city employees, can be superseded at any time by the Three Men in a Room. The fact that the city is so much more significant to the country and to the world than the rest of the state does not relieve in any way the bondage in which it is held by its governmental parent.
One need not advocate the impossible dream of secession to seek a relationship of mutual respect between the city and the state. A Constitutional Convention would be a sensible occasion to rework the strictures which denigrate home rule, a basic principle of municipal government.
Space has limited us to only one example today. Be assured there are many others, some of which have not yet come to light.
Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato