Doing my part in the critical fight against fracking

Rachel Lavine.
Rachel Lavine.

BY RACHEL LAVINE  |  What does it mean to be the New York Democratic State Committeewoman for the 66th Assembly District, a long title for a political position whose duties are obscure to most voters? It entails two principal duties.

The first is voting for candidates for statewide office at the New York State Democratic Convention; this allows them to bypass the onerous (and expensive) process of collecting the required number of signatures of registered Democratic voters, county by county, throughout the state.

The second duty, equally dear to the hearts of policy wonks like myself, is the drafting, promulgating and passing of resolutions by the 360-member body of the Democratic State Committee. These resolutions help to shape the State Democratic Committee position on current political issues, as well as serve to educate and lobby Democrat leadership, on a range of current concerns, such as fracking.

As the State Committeewoman for the 66th A.D., I am fortunate in having a particularly important vote, because in the State Committee not all votes are created equal. Those of us who represent heavily Democratic districts such as ours have the “weight” of our vote correlated to the number of Democratic voters who cast ballots during the most recent gubernatorial election. Since our Assembly District has one of the state’s highest Democratic turnouts, I, thanks to my fellow voters, have one of the “heaviest” votes — equal to or greater in weight than the combined vote of some Upstate counties! Which means that when Democratic candidates for statewide office are seeking to obtain the required minimum of 25 percent of the total State Committee vote, they actively seek the votes of State Committee members such as myself.

I am particularly proud of my role as the major force in getting the State Committee to support, after many years of opposition, first domestic partnership, and then same-sex marriage, many years prior to Governor Cuomo’s historic advocacy of marriage equality and the passage of that important legislation.

My most recent political work has been in opposition to hydrofracking. I have twice drafted resolutions, which I put forward at two separate Democratic State Committee meetings, demanding that there be a ban on hydrofracking in New York. Both resolutions garnered substantial support from the State Committee membership, from both Upstate and Downstate. The first time the resolution was killed in the Executive Committee, based on a voice vote, despite calls for a roll-call vote. As a result, the second time I brought in members of the Sierra Club and of Upstate communities who have been adversely affected by fracking; they explained what the environmental consequences would be, and rebutted some of the economic arguments made about fracking — in particular, the argument that fracking is good for economically stagnant or depressed areas.

While the pro-fracking faction, led by then-state Democratic Party Chairperson Jay Jacobs, had the opportunity to bring in proponents of the supposed benefits of fracking, they failed to do so, instead relying on that old political sawhorse, “Just trust us.”

When it became clear that we had organized sufficiently to move the resolution out of the Executive Committee, Chairperson Jacobs tabled — in my opinion, illegally — the anti-fracking resolution at the general meeting, again based on a voice vote.

While that tabling of the anti-hydrofracking resolution was, of course, unfortunate, in some ways it ultimately turned out to be quite productive. While my anti-fracking resolution was “voted” down, there was active opposition from the floor, as well as media attention during and after the vote, which highlighted not only the issue of hydrofracking, but the meeting’s disregard for procedural due process. There is no doubt in my mind that the issue of hydrofracking received far more media attention as a result of the state party’s refusal to allow a proper vote.

Governor Cuomo’s subsequent decision to more thoroughly study the many implications of fracking — environmental, economic and health-related, is likely a result of our efforts.

And as I write, there is a breaking news report that Nirav Shah, commissioner of the state Department of Health, has announced that the department needs more time before a decision can be made on whether fracking should be permitted in New York, due to “the complexity of the issues.” While some may see this as a cynical ploy to defuse the increasing momentum of the anti-fracking movement in New York, we can also see it as a hopeful indicator that the voices of reason and of science are having an impact.

It’s clear from both an environmental and health perspective, that fracking is a dangerous activity that will permanently despoil our land. So it’s all for the better if we can persuade our elected officials to make their decision based on facts and science, not the greed of the natural gas industry.

On a more personal level, as the mother of a young boy, I have started to experience both the good and the bad of New York City education.

And as the very proud spouse of Roberta Kaplan, who is arguing the historic case of Windsor v the United States before the Supreme Court this month, I am watching with with excitement and hope the culmination of the L.G.B.T. community’s fight for marriage equality. In this case, Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old widow (and Villager!) was forced to pay $363,000 in federal estate tax upon the death of her spouse, because her spouse was Thea, not Theo.

Ms. Windsor is arguing that the equal-protection clause of the Constitution requires the federal government to recognize all legally valid marriages, including those of New Yorkers, thus entitling same-sex spouses to the more than 1,000 federal rights benefits now available only to heterosexual spouses. A victory in Windsor’s case will be a victory for fairness, decency and justice — and truly reflective of the values of our Village community.