Maybe they finally know what it feels like.
Perhaps the deadlock in the state Senate – and the resulting frustration, fury and embarrassment among lawmakers – will give Albany a lingering taste of the bitterness felt by the rest of the state as we watch them bicker, blunder and break promises year after year.
Nothing of substance in the Senate can be accomplished until a quorum of 32 senators put politics, party, ego and ambition aside and agree to run the place on behalf of the people – something they each raised a hand and swore to do earlier this year.
The faceoff between 31 Democrats and 30 Republicans (plus Dem turncoat Pedro Espada) shows no signs of ending. But if we’re lucky, every senator will remember days like yesterday, when hundreds of staffers were reduced to sitting around in offices, simulating a workday while keeping a close eye on TVs, e-mail and cell phones, hoping for positive news from the back rooms where their bosses have been endlessly caucusing.
I hope we continue to hear the kind of anger expressed by longtime Albany insiders who are predicting a surge of popular anger.
Sampson, who turned 44 yesterday, is no rabble-rouser, but he says – accurately – that the lawmakers now refusing to negotiate an end to the deadlock deserve condemnation and, perhaps, defeat at the polls.
That’s unusual talk from an even-tempered man freshly elevated to the top of the legislative heap. But these aren’t usual times.
Even Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a tough negotiator who regularly stands accused of using delay as a weapon to get what he wants, says the public won’t stand for the Senate remaining inactive for months on end. Silver’s house recently passed 179 bills – he calls them “hostages” to the Senate – covering everything from mayoral control of schools to state aid for cities and counties and rules governing placement of power plants.
In a worst-case scenario, the bills will all die unless the Senate takes action by the end of this year. Silver calls that inconceivable – but he also plans to send the 150 members of the Assembly home and will put the chamber on hiatus until the Senate gets back to business.
Perhaps the Assembly members, anxiously watching to see if their bill drafting, hearings and debates were in vain, will remember that the same helpless anxiety is the norm for the vast majority of the state’s 19 million residents, who never learn why vitally important matters die in Albany.
Sampson and Silver are right: Fixing what’s wrong with Albany rests primarily with the people of New York, who have put up with too much nonsense for far too long. A little strategic voting to remove the creators of the current mess would go a long way.
But it shouldn’t take so much editorial page outrage and constituent complaints to persuade the lawmakers to honor their oaths of office. They work in a privileged place: The lobby of the New York State Senate chamber has awe-inspiring paintings and busts of former state lawmakers like Grover Cleveland, Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt who changed the course of history during the centuries since the Senate first convened in 1787.
Nearly every editorial and column about Albany these days includes the word “shame.” An emotion that pols normally use as a punch line rather than a prick of the conscience.
Now, for the first time, they’re feeling it. And I hope the sensation lasts.
At 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 20, a community march and rally against violence will begin at 1605 Fulton St. in Brooklyn to commemorate the third anniversary of the still unsolved murder of 16-year-old Chanel Petro-Nixon. For more information, call (347) 210-8954.
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