Koch and senators say Albany reform must be the priority


By Lincoln Anderson

A dozen state Senate Democrats joined former Mayor Ed Koch on Monday to unveil a package of bills that would fulfill Koch’s “New York Uprising Heroes of Reform” pledge, and called on the Senate to make passing the comprehensive legislation its top concern in January.   

In early 2010, alarmed at Albany’s embarrassing — and worsening — dysfunction and deciding that something needed to be done, Koch, along with others, formed New York Uprising. The group’s pledge, which both incumbents and candidates were asked to sign, calls for independent, nonpartisan redistricting; ethics reform; and better budget procedures using GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).

A majority of both Houses have endorsed the pledge: In the state Senate, with 62 seats, all but eight members have signed on, while, in the Assembly, with 150 seats, 83 have signed. So far, however, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has notably failed to put his pen to the pledge.

Speaking at Monday’s press conference, Koch said, “I am delighted to join with these members of the New York State Senate in their announcement seeking to implement the pledges that New York Uprising supported in the recent legislative election and which they signed. In this coming year, these pledges have to be enacted into law. I will be working with the members of the Legislature on a bipartisan basis to make that all come about.”

Koch said, with redistricting only done once every 10 years and coming up this year, it’s vitally important now to reform how district lines are drawn.

Most elected officials want to do a good job, Koch assured, though adding, “There are some miscreants who will wind up in jail.” He said New York Uprising “will be in the districts,” letting officials know that they will be held accountable.

State Senator Daniel Squadron organized Monday’s press conference, bringing together a group of Senate Democrats, several of whom are backing various bills that correspond to the reforms Koch is calling for.

Squadron — whose district includes the East Village and Soho and all of Manhattan to the south, plus Brooklyn’s northwest rim from Greenpoint to Carroll Gardens — called on senators to make good on their “Heroes of Reform” pledges.

“The first order of business in Albany this January must be reforming Albany,” Squadron said. “My colleagues and I signed the New York Uprising pledge because it includes measures that we’ve been fighting hard for — ethics reform, budget reform and ensuring that the redistricting process is fair, open and nonpartisan. I urge all state senators who signed the pledge to keep their word and join us in passing these important reform measures.”

State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, said of the raft of reform bills, “There is no good excuse not to pass this when we go back to Albany as the first order of business.” As for independent redistricting, in which elected officials don’t draw their own district lines, Gianaris said the intent is simple: “Voters choose their elected officials, rather than the elected officials choose their voters.”

Senator-elect Tony Avella of Queens said, “We’ve made a commitment that enough is enough.” He noted that six years ago, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found New York State Legislature’s to be the worst and most anti-democratic in the nation.

“We have to pass this in our first month — no ifs, ands or buts,” Avella said of the reform legislation.

State Senator-elect Adriano Espaillat from Upper Manhattan said, regarding redistricting, that districts must be the same size, “with a variance or deviation of one vote — like in Congress — not up to 10,000, which is the wiggle room that is gerrymandering.”

Redistricting would not only redraw lines for Assembly and state Senate district boundaries, but also for New York congressional districts.

Senator-elect Gustavo Rivera from the Bronx said the first bill he’ll introduce once in office will call for full financial disclosure by legislators.

“When people elect state senators and assemblymembers, they need to know where their income is coming from,” he said.

Afterward, asked why the press conference didn’t include any members of the Assembly in a bicameral show of support, Squadron said, the Senate was “taking the lead” on reform.

During the election, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo signed on to New York Uprising’s pledge, vowing to veto any attempt by the Legislature to redraw its own district lines.

Speaking after Monday’s press conference, Koch said he hopes Speaker Silver will work with the reform effort.

“Shelly Silver is one of the smartest people I know,” he said. “I’m hopeful Shelly Silver will be working hand in hand [with us].”

Koch said Silver told him he’ll be introducing legislation that will “take into consideration” legislation that has been passed by 13 other states that have independent redistricting — “but I don’t know what he means,” Koch added with a smile.

Speaking last month, Hizzoner told this newspaper, “Ultimately, I don’t give up — and hope that I’ll be able to get Shelly to join the reform movement.”

In a statement, Silver said, “I am committed to continuing our efforts to reform state government, improve the redistricting process and strengthen our ethics laws. The Assembly has already voted to apply generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to the state budget and we plan to once again pass comprehensive ethics legislation, as we have in the past. We will work in a collaborative way to come up with a redistricting process that protects the rights of minority voters, keeps public officials accountable to the people and provides strong representation for all New Yorkers.”