That is how many New Yorkers, based on the figures used in the most recent round of redistricting, are currently without a representative in either the state Assembly or the Senate.
With the recent felony bribery conviction of Eric Stevenson and resignation of alleged serial sexual harasser Dennis Gabryszak, the number of open seats in the Legislature rose to 11—nine in the Assembly, two in the Senate.
One would think that with roughly one out of every 11 New Yorkers currently disenfranchised in Albany, calling special elections to fill those seats would be a priority—and an urgent one at that. Instead, nobody in our government’s leadership seems in much of a hurry to make sure that these nearly 1.8 million people have the representation to which they are constitutionally entitled and deserve.
Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not comment on the subject this week, back on Nov. 18, when there were a mere eight vacancies, he made it clear that he had no intention of calling special elections. “It’s a balance of the cost and hardship of the election versus the community’s right to representation, but we don’t have any plans as of now,” Cuomo weighed in, while holding down one side of the scale.
The governor is going to let 1.8 million people languish until January 2015 without representation in both houses of the Legislature?
And, keep in mind, 1.8 million is optimistic. As hard as it is believe, indicted Senators Malcolm Smith and John Sampson are still in office. If they alone were to lose their seats before the completion of their terms, that would mean another 700,000 or so New Yorkers would join the ranks of their unfortunate neighbors. And Sampson and Smith are far from the only members of the Legislature who are imperiled. I am certain, purely based upon the law of averages in Albany, that at least a few of their colleagues are teetering on the brink of expulsion at this moment, though the charges may not have yet come to light.
After Gabryszak finally oozed off, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that while he favored Cuomo calling special elections, doing so was no big deal, because, “Once the budget is enacted, there isn’t a lot that would be considered between now and the end of the year.”
Silver’s slip of the tongue has to rank as one of the most revealing statements ever uttered by a legislative leader. It completely demeans the importance of individual members, reduces constituent services to an afterthought, and telegraphs that the upcoming session post-budget will essentially consist of legislators counting the days until they can campaign full-time.
On the bright side, lobbyists and activists, if your bills don’t get passed by April 1, you don’t have to write any more checks or bother organizing those bus trips up to the Capitol. Summer is going to start early this year!