Jim Yates, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s chief counsel, spoke with City & State last week for our annual “Influentials” issue.
But Yates, who is on his second tour of duty in Albany as right-hand man to the Assembly Speaker (the first go-around was for Mel Miller), also told us his thoughts on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s style as governor, how it compares to Mario Cuomo’s, and talked about his own relationship with the soft-spoken Silver.
Yates said that a significant change in Albany since Cuomo took office has been the virtual evaporation of the “three men in a room” style of government Albany has become so famous for.
“It’s a different arrangement this time,” Yates said. “The first time around, you literally would have three different leaders and usually a counsel, or a counsel and a fiscal person each, so that it would be common to have eight or nine people in the room. That was with Mario Cuomo. Those meetings would go on for a long, long time. You’d be in the room for anywhere from two hours to eight hours. That’s not really the system right now. That’s not the way the current governor does it.
“He [Andrew Cuomo], I don’t think we have had that many meetings where the three leaders would sit in a room with or without staff for long periods of time and negotiate things,” Yates continued. “More likely it’s staff that will talk, Larry Schwartz or Mylan Denerstein will talk to Rob Mujica…. We’ll have a lot of conversations, and then report back and discuss it to our respective leaders, and then the governor will frequently have a conversation with one or the other leader, if there’s some kind of logjam issue.”
The three leaders don’t sit for a long time in a room and painstakingly go through agenda items, Yates said.
“Shelly will talk to Dean and the governor will talk to Shelly,” he said. “Then the governor will talk to Dean. I think there are a lot more bilateral discussions than there are three-way meetings.”
Yates said the stylistic change was effective.
“If you measure efficiency by results, then yeah,” he said. “I mean we’ve accomplished a lot, so maybe it’s good if staff clear away the weeds and only the major issues get discussed by the leaders.”
Yates, who left the Assembly in 1992 and was a Claims Court and Supreme Court judge for 18 years before rejoining the Assembly, said he came back for the opportunity to work with lawmakers and Speaker Silver.
He said he likes to roam the Assembly floor to talk with members.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate or right for me to sit in my office and ask members all the time to come in and see me,” Yates said. “If I have something I want to talk to a member about I’ll just walk out on the floor and see a member and say, ‘What’s up?’ ”
He also said Silver is a great person to work for.
“He’s someone you can talk to honestly about the issues, whose mind you can change if you make the case to him,” Yates said. “That’s all you can really ask for. He’s a good listener. We spend a lot of time just talking over the details of issues. There are very meaningful conversations. I can’t tell you how many hours we’ve spent in a room just talking about an issue. He’s a very thoughtful person.”
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