In recent years, the end of the state legislative session included a flurry of bills being passed and last-minute deals made behind closed doors. But this year, legislative leaders remain at odds over the biggest issue: mayoral control of schools in New York City, which is set to expire.
And the one person who might be best positioned to resolve the impasse, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has spent little time in Albany after the budget agreement was reached, after indicating that he already got most of what he wanted this year.
Many of Cuomo’s top policy priorities for this year – a new scholarship program at CUNY and SUNY, raising the age of criminal responsibility, expanding ridesharing upstate – were included in the state budget. Since then he has focused mostly on issues outside of Albany, especially on the national scale, including an effort to elect more Democrats to the House of Representatives, despite his insistence he is not running for president in 2020.
“By in large, I think this has been a session in which everything was done in the budget – obviously very contentious issues and obviously the governor recognized that and I think both houses recognize that,” said Republican political consultant John McArdle. “No one is criticizing the governor for not being around, because what he could do to bring some of these issues to closure is anyone’s guess.”
However, Democratic political consultant Bruce Gyory said Cuomo’s absence so far may be a calculated effort. Cuomo has long been both praised and criticized for being a control freak.
“I don’t know if he doesn’t care, so much as he’s waiting for the right time to see if he can get a package together and governors have been known – especially smart governors – have been known to play possum,” Gyory said. “If you’re going to play mediator, you’re don’t want to be in a position where you’re perceived as wanting something so badly, people will take what you want as hostage.”
However, Gyory said the downside of that tactic is that it may appear that he doesn’t have any interest.
“It doesn’t mean you’re not going to pull it together at the right time,” he said. “He doesn’t want something he wants to be taken hostage, so to play the mediator role, you try to be as neutral as you can to be able to bring the parties together.”
Last week, Cuomo claimed he was not optimistic about an extension of mayoral control or passage of the Child Victims Act, which would make it easier to bring cases alleging sexual assault of a minor.
Cuomo has also made dozens of appointments that need to be confirmed by the state Senate, but most of the big ticket issues have already been dealt with.
But the major issue left to be dealt with this week is the extension of mayoral control. State Senate Republicans have used the extension of mayoral control to punish New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio after he in 2014 launched a campaign to help Democrats regain the majority. State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has said there will be no deal without an expansion of the cap on charter schools in New York City. Assembly Democrats earlier this year passed a bill to extend mayoral control for three years, without addressing charters.
“Denying charters the ability to grow and preventing parents' ability to choose would shut the door on 20 years of proven gains in academic achievement,” Flanagan said in a statement released Sunday. “We can not allow that to happen, and will not grant a long-term extension of mayoral control without first ensuring that all students have opportunities.”