By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
When a vacancy in a state legislative office occurs just before the start of a new session in January, it is customary for the governor to set a special election as early in the new year as possible. Otherwise, constituents from that district are deprived of representation in Albany.
Given the fact that the critical work on the state budget occurs in the months before April, it is even more imperative that vacancies in the State Assembly or State Senate be filled ASAP.
I was elected to the Assembly in a special election on February 14, 1978 when my predecessor left his Assembly seat in the middle of his term on December 31, 1977. Similarly, when I retired from the Assembly at the end of 2005, my successor was also elected to fill my vacant seat in February.
However, this year the governor has decided to hold off on setting a date for special elections in two critical State Senate Seats, as well as several Assembly seats (including the open Assembly seat for the Town & Village community), until mid-April at the earliest.
There is a reason for this delay and it does not correspond with Andrew Cuomo’s stated progressive politics. As a result, hundreds of thousands of citizens across the state will not have an equal voice in the state legislature for most of the 2018 legislative session.
Governor Cuomo, contrary to his rhetoric, seems more comfortable keeping the status quo in the State Senate, which empowers the fewer elected Republicans to control the Senate agenda over the greater number of elected Senate Democrats. That arrangement seems to suit his political intentions.
By keeping two Senate Districts that are represented by Democrats unfilled for upwards of four months, and at least until after the passage of the state budget, he is virtually ensuring that there will be no reconciliation between the warring mainline Democrats with the breakaway Democrats who have aligned with the Republicans. There would be no point since even if they reunited at this stage, by missing two of their colleagues they would still not have a voting majority.
Andrew Cuomo can count, and he knows this. Thus when the 2018 state budget is negotiated and enacted on or about April 1, it will be done in the Senate with the Republican Party leaders calling the shots aided by the breakaway Democrats. With all his happy talk about Democratic Party unity and advancing a progressive agenda, Governor Cuomo is doing all he can to maintain division amongst the Democrats and control of the Senate by the Republicans for as long as possible.
I have no quarrel with Senate Republicans. They are operating honestly in the best interests of their party and their policies, even though I may disagree with many of those policy goals. However, the governor should either admit his preference for them or behave like the leader of his party. At a minimum, he should govern in a that is in keeping with his responsibility to facilitate political representation for all districts.
It seems as though our governor wants to have his cake and eat it too. If he gets called out for his machinations it will be his just desserts.