Tag Archives: Dean Skelos

Mixed Martial Arts in Albany: Cuomo versus Heastie versus Skelos

The mixed martial arts bills are progressing through the state legislature, the actual mixed martial arts, the combat in the octagon, the real blood sport is in full bloom. The featured bout: Cuomo v Heastie v Skelos.

The 150 members of the Assembly and the 63 members of the Senate gather in Albany the first week in January, some are deeply involved in introducing bills, other spend their time on constituent services and some work on their outside employment. Over the next term, the 2015 and 2016 sessions, over 15,000 bills will be introduced into the Assembly, about 500 will become laws, less than five percent of the bills introduced.

Members from Manhattan may file hundreds upon hundreds of bills, members from the inner city fifty bills, and chairs of major committees may file hardly any bills. Introducing a bill is a long way from passage, bills require democratic sponsorship in the Assembly, republican sponsorship in the Senate and gubernatorial support for final passage, a long, long road.

From January until the end of March the legislative leadership is consumed with the budget and the leadership has to gauge the temperature of their caucus, called the “conference.” Before or after a floor session members will meet in conference,’ a closed meeting, members and top staff only, no votes are taken, no minutes, the members can speak freely. How “tough” are the members? Do they want to risk going beyond April 1 without a budget? Do they want to “take on” the governor directly? Do they want to risk antagonizing core constituents? Who are the members more afraid of: the governor, their constituents? Or, the speaker?

Sheldon Silver ruled with an iron fist, he probably kept a copy of The Prince at his bedside, and one of his favorite quotes might have been,

“It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

Why am I quoting Machiavelli? Was he a totalitarian or a human rights respecting republican (Read Phillip Bobbitt, The Garments of the Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made (2013)).

Heastie, the speaker, needs the total support of his members, the 105 democratic members of the Assembly, the conference. He has to create a team, a united group who supports the speaker without reservations, a team who knows they cannot back away, that unless they stand up to the governor he will roll over them. You gain loyalty by acts, by making decisions that support your members.

Those of you who have played sports or played in an orchestra or danced in a company understand leadership, under the synergy created by teamwork, the sum is greater than the parts in a synergistic organism.

Five Regents are seeking re-appointment and there are two vacancies. In the Westchester-Rockland judicial district the speaker clearly approved of the Assembly democrats making the selection. Open interviews were conducted in Westchester, about a dozen applicants. Apparently the legislature will select Judith Johnson, a retired superintendent who is highly regarded across the counties, who was the choice a majority of the legislators.

Robert Bennett was the Regents from the Buffalo area, Bennett served as the chancellor prior to Merryl Tisch, served on the Board for twenty years, and his bio on the SED website recounts a long and illustrious career. Recently Bennett has begun to antagonize more and more sectors within the community, supporting charter schools, supporting the Common Core, supporting testing and, mostly, unconditionally supporting former Commissioner King. At the Albany interviews Assembly member Ryan skewered Bennett. Bennett proudly announced he was heading a task force to review special ed regulations, Ryan asked Bennett to what extent he was responsible for the failures of the last decade, and Bennett stumbled.

The Sunday Buffalo News reports that Regent Bennett has withdrawn and will support Catherine Fisher Collins,

Dr. Collins is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and the first African American nurse practitioner to graduate from the University of Buffalo’s School of Nursing Nurse Practitioner program. In addition she holds three certifications in health education.

The new speaker understands power, he defers to his members to fill a vacancy and is willing to dump a twenty year incumbent to acknowledge bubbling anger among voters.

Heastie is building a team, a team willing to follow their leader wherever he chooses to go, to the edge of the cliff, and, if necessary, over the edge.

Cuomo will bully, threaten, and try to undercut the speaker; veiled threats, not so veiled threats, waiting for the speaker to take whatever is on the table at the eleventh hour.

Senate majority leader Skelos has his own list, how much does he cede to Cuomo, and, can he partner with Heastie against Cuomo?

Speaker Heastie is the most powerful Black elected official in New York State, and, in time, potentially, one of the most powerful in the nation. Standing up to an incumbent governor only increases creds, and standing up to an incumbent governor and losing reduces his image.

Cuomo wants to be standing on the podium early on the morning of April 1st announcing the fifth straight on time budget, how can he reach an agreement without appearing to lose face? Can he “win the battle and lose the war,” by defeating Heastie and alienate Black and liberal voters?

In the Cuomo camp some advisors are probably telling him to follow the Scott Walker path, attack public employee unions unrelentingly, after all, it may be a path to the presidency. Other advisors will remind Cuomo, he’s running as a democrat, not a tea party republican.

I don’t know how Cuomo, Heastie and Skelos get to that April 1st stage, I don’t know the deals, the trade-offs, I don’t know how the questions of teacher evaluation, testing, tenure and “receiverships” will be resolved, for the three men in a room, the endgame, how the public views the “winners” and “losers” will drive the decisions.

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger, but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli

Heastie/Skelos to the Governor: You’ve Failed, A Receivership Model for Economic Policies


Jim Malatras
Director of State Operations
State of New York
Executive Chamber
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Mr. Malatras,

Over the last few months you have communicated with the Chancellor of the Regents, the Commissioner and the Acting Commissioner of the State Department of Education, sharply criticizing policies, demanding responses and directing the Chancellor/Acting Commissioner to “investigate” removing schools from supervision of schools districts and turning them over to “receivers.”

We share your concern with the education of the children of the State of New York; however, we note that the schools that you designate as “failing” schools are also schools in low wealth, high poverty sections of the state. Your just-released report fails to indicate that the schools and school districts highlighted in the report also lead the state in “risk factors,” namely, poverty, unemployment, English language learner, students with disabilities, children in shelters and foster care, single parent households, parent incarcerated, crime data in school catchments areas and other factors.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment and the 2% Property Tax Cap inhibit the ability of school districts to effectively fund schools. The entire school funding system in New York State should be rethought, not slashed.

The purpose of this letter is not to argue the governor’s education policies; the purpose is to question the effectiveness of the governor in addressing the economic issues plaguing too many cities around the state.

The Annual New York State Poverty Report is discouraging,

[Using the following indicators:] child- hood poverty, the gender wage gap, racial economic disparities and living wages: New York has the fourth largest number of people living in poverty, behind only California, Texas and Florida … The gender income gap continues to grow and African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos experience poverty at more than double the rate of white New Yorkers.

Our cities continue to have very high levels of childhood poverty – several more than triple the national poverty rate: Syracuse (51.3%), Rochester (51.1%), Utica (48.5%), Binghamton (47.9%) and Buffalo (46.5%). Statewide, 22.1% of children under the age of 18 live in poverty – nearly a million (935,477) children! Across the state, 54% of children are eligible for free or reduced cost lunch (76% of children in New York City and 40% of children in the rest of the state).

Blaming cities, school districts and teachers for the failures of the governor are unacceptable.

Each year legislators listen to the State of the State message, a long list of promises and priorities, and each year we are disappointed.

The governor has failed to revive the urban and rural areas across the state, jobs continue to erode, childhood poverty numbers grow, tax revenue shrinks, and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested have not reversed the economic and social disintegration of too many areas across the state. (See county by county poverty data here)

We no longer believe the governor’s policies will revive the state.

We are considering establishing “receiverships” for sections of the state, removing designated sections of the state and turning these areas over to “receivers,” organizations with turnaround experience in reviving cities and counties that will work closely with local stakeholders.

We increasingly believe that the answers are not on the second floor of the Capital, the answers are in the town halls across the state. Local elected leaders, community organizations, unions and faith-based organizations, working with “experts,” perhaps universities or other not-for-profits, can be more effective than state agencies directed by the governor.

As expeditiously as possible we are asking you to explore a process that will enable the state to relinquish economic development and other revenues to the local level and report your findings to us.

At the national level the Congress is increasingly uncomfortable with the Executive driving policy outside of the usual legislative process; an example is the Department of Education. At the state level we have lost confidence in the ability of the governor to drive economic recovery, and, blaming schools and teachers is absurd.

We look forward to exploring the empowerment of cities and counties.

Yours truly

Carl E. Heastie
Speaker of the Assembly

Dean Skelos
Majority Leader of the Senate