One of Albany’s biggest dead-of-night deals will result in up to seven casinos statewide, a cut in public pension costs, more convictions of career criminals and a far more promising outlook for Senate Republicans who clung to the political endangered list just two years ago.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed them all through with his close allies in the Senate’s Republican majority, even over the angry opposition and an eventual walkout by Senate Democrats. The measures finally voted on by dawn Thursday after an all-night session cap Cuomo’s second-year agenda after significant freshman accomplishments of fiscal constraint and legalizing gay marriage.
He did it in part using “messages of necessity” to dispense with the required three days of public review of sometimes complex bills, a tool intended for unspecified emergencies but often used by governors to avoid the unraveling of deals struck with legislative leaders behind closed doors.
After Cuomo plied the considerable leverage he created over lawmakers, and after frequent telephone calls to cajole rank-and-filers, the Legislature acted. It passed his measures to provide some independent redistricting beginning in 2022, doubled the state’s DNA criminal database, gained the first of two legislative approvals for seven casinos off Indian land, and landed his top priority of creating a lower-cost pension system for future public workers. Powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also exacted several changes in Cuomo’s proposal during late-night talks to win over his fellow Democrats.
“One of the dysfunctions of Albany is they never stop,” Cuomo said Thursday of legislators continually debating. He defended the quick votes after private negotiations. “They never conclude, they don’t act … government is supposed to function. It’s not a debating society.”
“We came, we saw the problem, we fixed the problem,” Cuomo said.
Meanwhile, his Senate Republican allies quietly scored more major wins going into this fall’s elections. Principal among them is securing Cuomo’s agreement to new election district lines that the GOP senators drew themselves to use over the 10 years, in exchange for independent redistricting in 2022. For decades, majorities have distorted the process to draw lines to cement power and protect their incumbents.
Two years ago, when Democrats won control of each house and every statewide position, Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith had vowed to redistrict Republicans “into oblivion.” Republicans won back the majority in 2010, following two years marred by scandal and partisan gridlock in Albany, then immediately allied with Cuomo.
“I think that’s good for the entire state, that there’s balance,” said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in an interview Thursday. “We saw when all branches of government were Democrat from New York City … government didn’t function well.
“And the people that live upstate and in rural areas, suburban communities on Long Island and Westchester felt disenfranchised,” said the Long Island Republican.
The timing is good, too. The state Republican Party meets this weekend in Rochester, as state Chairman Ed Cox tries to again motivate the faithful to take on the difficult task of holding their base of more conservative voters while attracting independents and Democrats.
“If you are grading the Senate Republicans on policy and survival, you have to give them an ‘A,’” said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. “This suits the governor’s needs as well. He is far more comfortable with the Republican Senate in terms of policy and personality.”
In the long session Wednesday night, frustration showed clearly among the Democrats. The Republican majority had removed 300 Democratic bills from the agenda and Democrats claimed debate was cut short.
Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat and rising leader in the conference, charged at the Republicans in late-night floor debate of the GOP redistricting plan. The young, aggressive Gianaris said the plan not only gives Republicans an edge for 10 years, it weakens the political voice of neighborhoods dominated by racial and ethnic minorities.
“Have you no shame?” Gianaris said to stately, soft-spoken Sen. Michael Nozzolio, the Republicans’ point man on redistricting.
Gianaris then advised Republicans they could take their plan “and shove it.”
“This is a dictatorship by the majority,” Senate Democratic leader John Sampson said afterward to reporters. “We’re going back to the pre-civil rights era.”
But the election district lines, pending unlikely court intervention, will be reality beginning in the fall elections when Republicans will face a test of their 32-30 majority in a state where Democrats have a nearly 2:1 enrollment advantage. Republicans have a built-in edge as a result of four dissident Democrats forming the Independent Democratic Conference after the chaotic Democratic majority of 2008-10.
The Independent Democratic Conference remained seated and voting with the Republican majority late Wednesday and into early Thursday morning after the Democrats stormed out, angry at having their debate limited.
“They just walked out like little children,” Skelos said. “It shows they don’t know how to govern.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.