Every spring around state budget time, all the talk at the capital used to be about three men in a room.
Not this year.
Instead, it’s three young women in an apartment who are getting the attention, and Albany’s old guard doesn’t appear to be happy about it.
But New York’s voters — especially those from the northwest Bronx — should be grinning from ear to ear.
A little background. Although we have a state legislature with 63 senators and 150 Assembly members, only two of them count at budget time — Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (the first woman to hold that post), They’re two of the three behind closed doors (Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the third) who decide the state’s agenda for the coming year and beyond.
Traditionally, the members of their respective chambers are docile, voting to ratify what the three have hammered out together.
For much of this century, progressive legislation was left on the table because a slim Republican majority in the senate saw to it their chamber’s man in the room represented their conservative values.
Democrats took a two-seat majority in the senate after the 2008 election and expected to retain control after 2010’s vote. Instead, our own state Sen. Jeff Klein broke away from his party in 2011 to form what he called the Independent Democratic Conference. Eventually, seven other Democratic senators joined him, promising to open up state government and institute meaningful reform.
Instead, they caucused with the Republicans and Klein got the chance to be the fourth man in the room at budget time.
Progressives fumed. Klein was able to overcome a primary challenge by popular city councilman Oliver Koppell in 2014, but then came 2016 and Donald Trump. Progressives were energized as never before. And none more so than a group of young female candidates determined to knock off the IDC and work for real change in Albany.
Our own Alessandra Biaggi aimed squarely at the leader, and she and her compatriots tore down the impregnable walls of the IDC.
Enough background. Here’s why the three young women in an apartment — including Biaggi — are in the news. When the legislature was in session, Sen. Biaggi, Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou — all in their 30s — share an Albany apartment, and they are making a name for themselves by being outspoken about major issues.
They were incensed to read in the March 14 issue of The New York Times about a “secret” $25,000-a-couple fundraiser where lobbyists and corporate donors could have access to the governor at the height of the state’s budget-writing season, even as Cuomo was expressing his commitment to campaign finance reform.
Instead of remaining docile, the women held an impromptu press conference in a capitol building hallway where Sen. Biaggi said, “It’s hypocritical.
It’s impossible to say that a $25,000 ticket is not influencing the decisions at arguably the most important time of our entire legislative session.”
According to The Times, the response from Cuomo’s office was swift and disturbing. “Richard Appozardi, a senior advisor to the governor, walked through the capitol’s press office excoriating the three legislators as ‘(expletive) idiots.’”
Even more disturbing was the criticism of Speaker Heastie, who told The Times we should “not try to say everything in this business is corruptive and corrupt.”
He has an awfully short memory. He is the Speaker because his predecessor, Sheldon Silver, was convicted of corruption. The senate majority leader’s predecessor, Dean Skelos, was convicted of corruption. Skelos’ predecessor, Joseph Bruno, also left office under a cloud.
The voters sent a clear message when we elected these women and their progressive compatriots to the state legislature: End pay-to-play in Albany.
Carl Heastie is up for re-election in 2020. That’s a presidential election year. Pundits are predicting a record progressive turnout in hopes of repudiating Donald Trump.
If Mr. Heastie doesn’t want to face Jeff Klein’s fate, he would do well to heed the advice of three young women in an apartment.
The author is a publisher emeritus of The Riverdale Press.