I took a few days earlier this week to visit our state capital, to do two things:
1) Accept a “Public Education/Media Award” award for The Journal News from the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services for our editorial work on behalf of people with mental illness, both in the public policy and funding arenas. Thank you, NYAPRS, for the recognition, and for all your work, too.
2) Check in, and check up on, “legislative doings” — or lack thereof.
In fairness, the Legislature and staff have a lot on their plate, not the least of which is following the twists and turns of all kinds of shenanigans the last few weeks: Gov. David Paterson’s scheduled-then-canceled trip to an economic summit in Switzerland; the negative fallout from his handling of appointing a successor to former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton; the Kirsten Gillibrand-Caroline Kennedy dance (Gillibrand got the Senate nod, Kennedy got the hoots); the indictment of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno on federal charges that he used his position to steer contracts and grants for $3.2 million in compensation for more than a decade; and accusations by the state inspector general that Dr. Antonia Novello, New York’s former health commissioner who was paid $256,000 a year, used state workers to chauffeur her on all kinds of shopping sprees.
In my other life, I write fiction, and I assure you, you cannot make this stuff up.
Anyway, the poor Legislature is trying to get its act together. Democrats took control of the state Senate for the first time in 43 years — they’ve always had a firm grasp on the Assembly — yet leaders squabbled among themselves, trying to get policy and posts in their favor, and wasted a lot of time and energy.
Meanwhile, that vaunted, smooth and informative transition from the Bush administration to the Obama one in Washington had no twin scenario in Albany. There was no seemless handing over of power that I could detect, or even handing over of information and paper. Lawmakers and staffers I talked to were still trying to digest the implications of the change (some Democrats, for example, were still open-mouthed at the Republican’s former Senate digs and resources that are now theirs).
Others were till trying to find offices in the labyrinths of the Capitol. Legislators were busy defending their record on passing bills in January — zero. Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle insist that they are more committed to attacking the state’s $15 billion deficit and passing “two-house” bills that are meaningful than to worry about any criticism at this juncture.
It takes a lot to take on Albany. And to take it at all. Go up and visit this legislative session. Talk to your local representatives. Attend a hearing. Check out a rally by angry constituents on the freezing Capitol steps. Lawmakers and staffers technically work for you, for all of us New Yorkers. Let them know that you know that.
Photograph: New York Gov. George Pataki holds a news conference at the Capitol in Albany on June 3, 1999, with former United States Surgeon General Dr. Antonia C. Novello, whom he nominated to be New York’s health commissioner. She got the job and, according to a just-issued state inspector general report, did a lot of shopping on state time. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)