After Gov. Andrew Cuomo described this last legislative session as “probably the most successful session in modern history,” a New York Times article described the statement as “not only wrong, but ridiculous.” After the conviction of Albany’s most powerful legislators, Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate leader Dean Skelos, the state’s inability to address the corrupting influence of corporate money on politics is both confounding and deeply disturbing.
On his watch as governor, Cuomo can rightfully claim credit for some historic achievements. The state’s watershed support for gay marriage, a ban on hydrofracking, support for paid family leave and raising the states minimum wage to $15. While paying lip-service to its elimination, the governor’s inability or unwillingness to address what the Times’ editorial called “the state’s great campaign financing scams — the so-called L.L.C. Loophole” casts a long shadow over these other achievements and fuels voter cynicism about Albany’s sincerity to carry out the people’s business.
The main roadblock to reform is of course the Senate Republicans, and the most obvious road to reform would be throwing his weight behind a campaign to win a democratic majority in the Senate, an achievable goal in this presidential election year. As Wayne Barrett noted in the New York Daily News recently, “This presidential election offers Cuomo his best opportunity to reconfigure the Senate, if he puts his money and his mouth behind it.” As of yet he hasn’t, instead calling for voters to support a referendum for a constitutional convention. An indirect and problematic road to reform at best.
Our own Senator Jeff Klein and his independent Democratic Conference (IDC) haven’t helped either. As Barrett describes, “IDC’s proposed LLC ban is a purist dead-end since it also bars all other corporate contributions and has no chance of becoming law. … IDC has since refused to join virtually every other Democrat senator as co-sponsors of a bill that passed the Assembly and would limit LLCs to the same $5,000 aggregate limit as other business entities. ... Its convenient posture has instead given cover to Klein’s GOP allies.”
But where the most powerful leaders in Albany have failed, ordinary New Yorkers could succeed this November. With the heaviest voter turn-out, the last two presidential elections have given state Democrats the majority in the Senate, only to see it denied by the IDC–Republican alliance. But with Donald Trump topping the GOP ticket, this year could be different. Even the IDC-GOP alliance may not be enough to prevent a Democratic majority as a Trump candidacy could have casualties down the ballot.
Of course, it would be easier if the governor was on board, as he appeared to be in 2014, before quickly stepping off. Perhaps as he did on marriage equality, fracking, paid family leave and the minimum wage he will hear the voice of the people, get and stay on board. This time the train may leave the station without him.
David Mirtz is a member of the Working Families Party who lives in the Amalgamated Housing co-op.