Politics & Tidbits: Playing chess in Albany

By Steven Sanders,

former Assembly member, 74th District

Steven Sanders

Steven Sanders

To begin to understand the machination of Albany politics especially with the state legislature, a basic understanding of chess is necessary. For they are based on the very same principles.

Chess is a game of strategy. Unlike other games, the moves made in chess are often times disguised and not always what they appear to be. First of all, in chess each player starts with 16 pieces. The pieces are of different values and are capable of making different moves across the 64 squared checkerboard. The goal in chess is to navigate across the board using your pieces in different ways to ultimately capture the opposing player’s “King.” Each player knows that in spite of starting out with 16 pieces they will lose some pieces along the way and even sacrifice some pieces in order to position themselves for victory.

To some extent that explains why Senator John Flanagan, the newly minted Senate (Republican) Majority Leader from Long Island, is so interested in New York City rent regulations. There are many more important local issues to Senator Flanagan’s constituents and fellow legislators from Nassau, Suffolk or upstate districts. But Flanagan is deftly holding on to the rent regulation issue near and dear to virtually every city legislator in the hopes of trading it or sacrificing it for something more important to his constituents and colleagues in the Senate. Each issue is like a chess piece. Each has a relative importance and each has a value if it is to be given up for something else.

No issue stands alone in Albany. Each issue is part of the bigger picture of what can be gained or lost in negotiations. This is probably also true of New York City mayoral control of the public schools which like New York City rent regulations must be renewed. It is very important to New York City politicians. But Flanagan and his mostly suburban and rural colleagues are holding on to both of those issues like a dog and its favorite bone.

Senator Flanagan cares much more about upstate property taxes and even some changes to the state’s restrictive gun laws (although that may now be a nonstarter following yet another gun tragedy, this time in a church in South Carolina). Flanagan also cares about upstate economic revitalization issues and even tax cuts to underwrite private and parochial school costs for parents who send their children to those schools or individuals who donate funds to those schools.

So the leaders in the Democratic Assembly led by Speaker Carl Heastie and the Senate leaders will move those issues along the checkerboard of negotiations knowing that to achieve their ultimate goals they will sacrifice some of those less important issue to gain more important issues for each of them. As for the governor, He will try to broker a deal that satisfies his political priorities by cobbling together issues that are of importance to the Assembly and the Senate that satisfies his political needs. In this case the governor is using the rent

regulation issue as leverage to procure approval from the Assembly on issues that it is less interested in, but ones that the governor has a great interest.

This is the traditional horse trading that has always been part of the Albany legislative culture of getting things done. But this gamesmanship causes great anxiety to ordinary citizens who feel like pawns in the game, especially one million New York City tenants.

Rent regulations and protections against eviction or huge increases in rents is a matter of life and death for many apartment dwellers.

So my advice to the leadership of Albany is to get this done this week and allow the people of the State of New York to proceed with their lives without the uncertainty and intrigue of Albany machinations.

Really, Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Heastie and Mr. Flanagan… this is not a game!


OP-ED: The legacy of Mario Cuomo

In November, 1993, Governor Mario Cuomo signed a bill into law that created a new $210M  program for mental health services by redirecting savings from psychiatric hospitals that were closing and creating a network of local programs. (Pictured with Cuomo are Sanders, the bill’s author, and State Senator Nick Spano.)

In November, 1993, Governor Mario Cuomo signed a bill into law that created a new $210M program for mental health services by redirecting savings from psychiatric hospitals that were closing and creating a network of local programs. (Pictured with Cuomo are Sanders, the bill’s author, and State Senator Nick Spano.)

By Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Much has been written about Mario Cuomo since his passing a week ago. I had the honor to serve in government as a member of the New York State Assembly during his 12 years in office as governor. During that time I got to know him on a personal and political basis.

Mario Cuomo was a fiercely loyal man. Loyal to his family, loyal to his convictions and loyal to the state that he governed from 1983 through 1994. He was a man of high intellect and unquestioned integrity. These traits seem desperately wanting in today’s generation of politicians… with notable exceptions of course. Mario Cuomo did not need a press advisor to distill what he said on a given issue. He was clear and articulate, and he was unequivocal. Reason, logic and eloquent speaking were his stock in trade in government. And unlike most, he led by example.

He was his generation’s spokesperson for the virtues of government as a force for good. When President Ronald Reagan declared that government itself was the problem, Mario Cuomo advocated the view that government is an equalizing and essential instrument for social progress when entrusted in the right hands. And like Lincoln he sought out “the better angels” of people’s nature.

When the public and politicians were clamoring and pandering for the death penalty as a way to respond to rising crime rates, Cuomo stood apart at great political risk and prevented its use in New York. Although a devout Catholic, and contrary to the importunes of the Church hierarchy, Cuomo made the legal and moral case for a woman’s right to choose. Before a national audience in 1984 Cuomo warned against the growing inequality in America and the schism of “haves” and “have nots” that was leading to “a tale of two cities” 30 years before Bill de Blasio co-opted that theme. Like the Kennedys of the 1960s, Mario Cuomo inspired a new generation of young people to join public service through his intellect and charismatic eloquence.

When given an opportunity to run for president in 1988 and 1992 he demurred and put any national aspirations aside because he felt that his promised work in New York State was still unfinished. That decision came from his heart as well as his head. Logic, loyalty and commitment overruled what may have been his political passions and ambitions.

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