If you give me six lines written
by the most honest man, I will find
something in them to hang him.
The NYS legislature is made up of 150 Assemblyman and 62 Senators from the nooks and crannies of the State. They gather in Albany from January until June, (full time at crunch time) from Monday to Wednesday and legislate for the people of the State.
The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School has been a consistent critic of the legislature, calling it “dysfunctional” and proffers a range of reform recommendations.When Speaker of the Assembly Shelly Silver responded, and criticized the 2008 Report, the Brennan Center shot right back.
State legislatures are rarely paradigms of transparency. They frequently meet for short periods of time and they are almost always leadership driven.
The first three months, January through March are the budget months … the State budget by statute is due by April 1. While the legislature has frequently missed the April 1 date in the last few years they have brought in the budget shortly thereafter. The budget negotiations are arduous – twelve years of a Republican Governor, a Republican Senate majority leader and a Democratic Assemby speaker: urban versus suburban versus rural, inner city versus farming; conflicting priorities from the length and breathe of this very diverse State. The inner city issues in Brownsville and Buffalo, the deep seated unemployment upstate, from the wealthy suburbs surrounding urban centers to the struggling farmers around the State; the “three men in a room” must satisfy the many interests of their constituents.
While the public face of the legislature appears to be driven by leaders with an iron fist, in reality, the conferences, the party caucuses, are arenas for wide ranging and conflicting debates. Congestion pricing is a prime example, it did not come to a vote because the members of the Democratic conference vigorously opposed it. It simply was Speaker Silver carrying out the wishes of his members, and, absorbing the vitriolic barbs of the Mayor.
In spite of being in a room with two Republicans, Pataki and Bruno, the Speaker was a brilliant negotiator, tough and patient, wise in the ways of the arcane passageways of budgets and legislative rules, and sensitive to the needs of his conference members.
Governor Spitzer was determined to be the “big dog” in the room, to force his will on both Silver and Bruno, and only succeeded in antagonizing those very legislators he needed to pass his programs.
The current iteration of “three men in a room” is a new unelected Governor, a Senate leader with a one vote majority, and, yes, Shelly.
Silver is the modern day Cardinal Richelieu, his powerful, analytical intellect was characterized by a reliance on reason, strong will, the ability to govern others and use political power effectively.
Joel Klein has spent his tenure dissing State legislators , example after example of treating the electeds with disdain. Whether it be closing of schools in their districts, or transparency of funding or programs, announcements are spun out by the communication cadre at Tweed, totally ignored the needs, desires or questions of elected officials.
Sonny Cianci was the Mayor of Providence, in a wonderful biography Cianci supposedly opined, “… always remember that the hand you bite today might be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.”
Maybe the $6B in the stimulus package earmarked for NYS, if it arrives, will ease the impending tsunami … the competition for the dollars will be fierce.
In the ideal world that academia worships clones of Jefferson and Madison would discuss the issues of the day before an understanding and admiring populace … in reality the founding fathers engaged in “down and dirty” politics, personal attacks were commonplace; Jefferson supported James Callender’s newspaper whose sole purpose was to attack Hamilton … and his affair with Mrs. Reynolds .
If you’re really into American history and how the politics of the early Republic shook out, Jefferson vs. Hamilton is a great study. It’s also a little, I guess comforting, to know that as bad as we think today’s politicians are, politics was always a very dirty game. Like Bismarck said, “Laws are like sausages. Better to not see them being made.” And as Ecclesiastes says, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
Intelligence, patience, guile, sensitivity and toughness: qualities of a leader will all be required to create a budget that addresses the yawning deficit and protects the weakest and the most vulnerable. Shelly Silver will be the key player … we wish him well.