November 18, 2004

Cortland accident, county jail, state reform

While I'm grateful that there haven't been many accidents inside Dryden lately, there seem to be more and more nearby. Yesterday, Dryden rescue workers were among those responding to tractor-trailer crash on Route 13 in Cortland that left one of the victims' vehicles buried under tons of salt.

At the county level, the jail project remains a possibility after Tuesday's 7-7 deadlock on the vote. The Journal provides a list this time of who voted for and against the budget. Among legislators representing Dryden, Martha Robertson voted for it, while Mike Lane and George Totman voted against it.

On the opinion page, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton writes a response to my letter earlier this month criticizing her and Senator Jim Seward for being so quiet on issues of reform and the Journal for doing so little reporting on it.

Unfortunately, I find this column depressing for two reasons. First, it directly echoes a letter I got from her earlier this month, which didn't particularly answer the questions I had raised in my initial two letters. Second, Lifton happily points out the reforms she has supported - largely to do with the budget (which Pataki vetoed this week) and some of the Brennan Center's proposed reforms - without addressing some of the hard questions I raised.

In my letter to her office, I asked about her earlier unwillingness to challenge Sheldon Silver on TCAT structure changes, and my letter to the Journal mentioned the borrowed slush funds that the leadership uses to reward members. I'd especially like to see a reply on that.

It's nice to hear that "While I am considering many of the Brennan/ Stringer proposals, there are some that I strongly support," but she doesn't mention, for example, if she supports the proposal to require legislators to actually be present in the chamber to cast a vote. She needs to "study... redistricting further," when the New York Legislative district maps are an exquisite puzzle of gerrymandered pieces. The other 10 steps she refers to in the letter are lovely, but extremely vague. (Update: In revisiting that site, I found I'd missed a much more detailed PDF version. I'll write more on that later.)

The only time she directly mentions the leadership is when she says "I am pleased Speaker Silver has convened an Assembly task force to consider all the reform proposals." Will Speaker Silver be delighted to give up enough of his power to make the legislature function as a legislature, or will he give up just enough to make the news cameras go away? I'm afraid my guess is the latter.

I think what frustrates me most is that Lifton's answers give me no sense at all that she's interested in making New York's government work like the governments we hear about in civics classes. There is little sign here that she sees a future in which the leadership manages the chamber rather than telling it what to do. Redistricting seems fundamental to thawing New York politics, and I don't see enthusiasm for that here.

Maybe we'll see a similar reply from Senator Seward. I'll be curious, but I can't say I'm counting on so much as hearing from him on this issue. He's a member of the Senate Majority Task Force on Reform, but so is every other Republican Senator.

Reform did claim an election victory nearby, despite the best efforts of those who draw the districts. David Valesky defeated Republican incumbent Nancy Larraine Hoffman for a State Senate seat near Syracuse. Hoffman had supported reform when she was a minority Democrat in the Senate, switched parties to the Republicans and dropped reform, and lost in a three-way race where reform might actually have been the deciding factor.

Posted by simon at November 18, 2004 9:51 AM in , , , ,
Note on photos