The Grinch Who Stole Democracy

The Grinch Who Stole Democracy

The Grinch Who Stole Democracy
January 30, 2014

This Christmas, Santa Cuomo is leaving lumps of coal in the stockings of New Yorkers. He is dumping a pile of coal on downstate New Yorkers— mostly minority voters—by refusing to call special elections in early 2014 to fill eight or more vacancies in the state Legislature. The state Constitution invests him with the discretion to do so.

It’s unfathomable that Cuomo would deprive close to a million New York residents of equal representation because he wants to exercise faux fiscal prudence. Last month he declared, “It’s a balance of the cost and the hardship of the election versus the community’s right to representation, but we don’t have any plans right now.”

Cuomo’s rationale for not calling special elections to fill vacancies created by the election of five city and three upstate state legislators to local offices is ludicrous. Cuomo must truly believe his “I am the government” Freudian slip.

If carried out, this action would make Cuomo the Grinch who stole democracy.

The one major responsibility of state legislators (aside from getting re-elected) is to negotiate and pass a balanced state budget. Through their elected legislators, New Yorkers from Wantagh to Watertown, the Bronx to the Queen City, have a voice in the crafting of tax policy and allocation of state resources.

Cuomo’s decision would deny thousands of New Yorkers representation during budget deliberations. His proposed action is a violation of the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution. In the Bronx my federally indicted legislator gets a say on the state budget, while my neighbors across the street go without representation. That’s unfair.

Several minority legislators I spoke with expressed their displeasure with Cuomo’s pronouncement. Even Dick Dadey, head of the good government group Citizens Union, no fan of party-controlled special elections, expressed reservations about Cuomo’s plan not to call special elections in early 2014. “Special elections should be reformed so that party committees don’t choose the nominees, but to wait to hold elections until next fall disenfranchises voters from having their voices heard during critical state budget decisions and votes,” said Dadey.

Santa Cuomo’s other lump of coal involves potentially saddling taxpayers with anticorruption reform that in reality would be a raid on the state treasury.

When it comes to “corruption in Albany,” Cuomo takes a holier-than-thou attitude. Apparently everyone in the Capital is dishonest except for him. He is the only true guardian of the commonweal. But that act is beginning to wear thin with some New Yorkers. His political machinations are becoming ever more gauzy, if not transparent.

His handpicked and allegedly staff-directed Moreland Commission recently issued a hoary report declaring that there is corruption in Albany. Correction: “in the state Legislature”—because, as Cuomo opined on an Albany radio show, “The problem has been evidenced in the Legislature. That’s where the indictments are.”

But none of those indictments involved campaign finance irregularities.

Moreland investigators apparently haven’t publicly deposed lobbyists to learn what they tell clients about making campaign contributions to the governor or the Democratic State Committee.

And unlike Mario Cuomo’s broader Feerick Commission, this Moreland Commission is now examining only the Legislature, even though the governor said that “anything they want to look at they can”—including himself.

Were it up to Cuomo, taxpayers would be saddled with campaign finance welfare for incumbents, candidates and lobbyists doubling as campaign consultants. Gold-plated welfare programs of the ’60s and ’70s spawned “poverty pimps.” Were it up to Cuomo, 2014 would spawn “political campaign pimps” using the lure of free money to run “competitive” primary and general elections. Under the guise of fighting corruption and in the name of fair elections and democratic competition, a new set of special interests would be feeding at the public trough.

The shell game in Albany is shifting taxpayer dollars from one special interest group to another, all in the guise of reform. I still recall the guffaws elicited when, during my freshman term in an Assembly Majority meeting, I noted that all we did was move money around.

Mom and Dad always counseled, “Truth always lies at the heart of jest.”

Santa Cuomo’s lumps of coal would disempower voters as decision-makers and empower an unelected group to run legislative campaigns, elect those legislators and lobby them on behalf of their private clients months later.

To these affronts, New Yorkers must collectively say “No.”

Former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin (@SquarePegDem on Twitter) represented the Bronx for eight years.

Michael Benjamin