Silver and Assembly Dems Defend Their “Democratic” Process

In the latest New York Observer, Azi Paybarah talks to state legislators and other insiders about how the congestion pricing non-vote went down on Monday. Conclusion: Assembly Democrats told Speaker Sheldon Silver what to do, not the other way around. And by killing the pricing bill behind closed doors, the thinking goes, the Democratic conference rightfully exerted its power. 

The way the Democratic members see it, opening
potentially contested votes up to all the members of the Assembly would
be a voluntary abdication of party advantage. The will of the majority
of Democrats, they point out, correctly, might not be done.

“If you had 44 Republicans and 32 Democrats, you could
theoretically pass a bill that a majority of the Democratic conference
opposed,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester, who emerged
as the vocal public leader of the opposition to congestion pricing.
“That is not the way we run the system. And frankly, it’s not the way
we should run the system.”

Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, a good-government type
from the East Side of Manhattan, explained it by saying, “The idea that
democracy did not occur here [because] it was not a floor vote really
is incorrect. Democracy occurred with every member of the Assembly
majority providing the speaker with his or her views, whether it was in
conference or when the speaker polled members.”

“The process works in ways in which the committee structure weeds out
bad bills and kills them,” Mr. Brodsky explained. “In this case, the
issue was so important that the conference substituted for a committee
meeting. It was a committee of the whole, as it were.”

And there you have it: democracy, firing-squad style. You know the victim is dead, but you’ll never know who pulled the trigger.

  • vnm

    So if you’re not in the majority, you don’t get a vote? How the $#%&^ is that democratic?

    And Brodsky’s actually on record holding that up as an example of democracy? Giving all duly-elected representatives a say in an important matter isn’t the way they should run the system?

    Spoken like a true member of a privileged elite. This makes me outraged.

  • vnm

    Actually, this is useful because it finally tells us who is responsible for this undemocratic process: Every member of the Assembly’s Democratic caucus.

    I am a committed lifelong Democrat, but as many of these clowns as possible need to be voted out of office and/or term limited.

  • Dave

    And more:
    – no remorse that they made the wrong decision.
    – no plans to fill the $17 billion funding gap
    – no resolution of congestion
    – no reduction in asthma rates

    Albany is completely corrupt, inefficient and hates New York City. How do we start the secession process?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Albany is completely corrupt, inefficient and hates New York City. How do we start the secession process?)

    I hear from friends Upstate that we can secede if we want, but we have to take Silver and the rest of our “representatives” with us. They aren’t about to be stuck with them — they’ve got enough of their own.

  • jmc

    Theoretically, we could redraw districts after secession and also eliminate the “three men in a room” model.

  • Dave

    I’m going to write a letter to Bloomberg asking him to take up secession. He’d make a great governor IMO.

    – Do we include Long Island? I’d say yes; there’s already talk of secession there.
    – Westchester? Only if we get rid of Brodsky.
    – Putnam/Dutchess/Orange? Probably not. We need the reservoirs in Westchester…how far up do they go?
    – What do we call the new state? Ideas please.

    We need a recognizable name but one that won’t show preference to an existing area. State of New Hudson?

  • Edgar

    Speaking of the Democratic Party’s abandonment of environmentalism, here’s a doozy of an article from South Dakota. It turns out that the Bakken formation could increase the U.S.’s proven oil reserves 2 to 10 times:

    “The study is expected to be completed by late April, according to Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who, along with other state officials, pushed the federal agency to finish the research started by scientist Leigh Price.

    Billion barrels

    Price estimated the Bakken formation may hold as many as 900 billion barrels of oil. But Price died in 2000 before the study could be published or peer reviewed.

    Other estimates of the Bakken formation’s oil reserves have pegged the number at closer to 200 billion or 300 billion barrels.

    “I think it’s going to show a very substantial recoverable reserve of oil,” Dorgan said. “It will be important as a signal to the rest of the world what we have here.”

    Dorgan optimistic

    Dorgan said the U.S. Geological Survey began work on finishing Price’s work about a year and a half agoo.

    Dorgan said the study’s findings will only increase the oil boom that the western part of the state currently is experiencing.

    “The oil boom is real and it’s going to be real significant” Dorgan said.

    During a stop at the International Crop Expo on Thursday in the Alerus Center, Dorgan questioned why the Department of Energy continues to put aside 50.000 to 60,000 barrels of crude oil in the nearly-full strategic petroleum reserve every day in light of high oil and gas prices.

    “When oil is $90 to $100 a barrel, we shouldn’t be taking it out of the supply pipeline and sticking it underground,” Dorgan said. “It is increasing prices. I think it’s absolutely nuts to be doing this with the current price of oil.”

    Dorgan also said that high oil and gas prices affect farmers and North Dakotans more than some, citing research that showed North Dakota residents use twice as much gas per person as New York residents. “

  • Edgar
  • Geck

    New Amsterdam

  • Moser

    Secession isn’t the issue – the assholes who killed pricing are mainly from NYC.

  • Dave

    How doe we know that given that we don’t have the positions of the State Assembly (or do we?)

    What about the huge amount of taxes that we send upstate? The repeal of the commuter tax? Albany’s involvement in the city’s afairs to a point of riculousness….red light cameras as an example.

    NYC gets nothing but a bill and aggravation from NY State. Secession would allow also us to establish a functional state government.

  • Larry Littlefield

    What you folks who have followed this one issue do not understand is that compared with most of what the legislature does, the congestion pricing debate was a model of democracy.

    There was a fact finding commission with findings made public. There was a public debate in a variety of forums. There was a vote by the NYC Council. There was a debate in the state legislature, and a vote (albeit a secret one by just some of them).

    Contrast that with the decision to allow NYC teachers to retire seven years earlier at age 55 rather than 62, after 25 years rather than 30. The drastically increased retirement costs will drain money out of the classroom — forever. The amount of money makes CP seem small.

    There was no public debate. There was no public information on the consequences. Bloomberg cut a deal with the UFT, god knows why (support for a possible run for President)? The City Council didn’t vote.

    The Assembly approved it overwhelmingly. The State Senate approved it unaninoisly — the day after the teachers agreed to back a Republican in a special election in the North Country. No one talked about Bloomberg’s arrogance.

    Spitzer signed it just before resigning. He had been issuing press releases annoucing discretionary grants in the low six figures. There was no press release for a decision with consequences in the multiple billions.

  • Blair Z

    Thanks for the teacher retirement post Larry. You’ve killed the iota of hope left alive after congestion pricing’s non-vote defeat.

  • Spud Spudly

    I’ve been saying all week that Shelly was for the proposal but just couldn’t wrangle his people. It’s not his job as majority leader to call out his people and expose them to criticism, or he surely wouldn’t me their leader for long.

  • Mark

    Much as I love the idea of succession, you’d have to get it past both the state legislature and the U.S. Congress. Think the Republicans would like to give NYC two brand-new senators?

    Also, while upstate bleeds us dry, they also keep us wet. If NYC secedes, forget about defending the watershed.

    If there’s a way of imposing term limits on the state legislature without involving the state legislature, I’m all ears.

    Perhaps a more promising area of research would be Silver’s employment by the law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg at an undisclosed salary. What exactly does Silver do there? Does this law firm make any money from state or city contracts? Is there a CP supporter in the firm who might be willing to anonymously mail a document or two to Streetsblog, the Times, or the Voice?

  • Mark

    I meant secession, not succession. My prooofreader is sick this week.

  • fdr

    Guess who has to approve secession? That’s right, the State Legislature! Have Bloomberg get on the horn with his buddy Shelly and see if they can work it out.

  • brent

    The democrats have failed us again by ignoring their public duties. Reject their corruption by boycotting the vote. In November put a check next to Obama and leave the rest of the ballot blank. Do not legitimatize the New York legislators.

  • This is not “Democracy”…this is party politics at its worst.

    If I understand Brodsky correctly, he is saying that Silver should never allow a vote on a bill that the Democrats don’t support because it only helps the other party. That seems like the opposite of democracy to me.

    Does that mean that Republican New Yorkers have no representation in the Assembly, even though they have elected members to the Assembly?

    I am an independent, so I really don’t have any representation in the government…but something stinks about this whole thing.

  • grammar

    re: name post secession

    Like Jimmy Breslin, I’d suggest that the city deserves to keep “New York” and upstate should be renamed “Buffalo”, after its largest city.

  • Paul G.

    All this is a reason each of us should continue to press our individual Assembly members to announce their position. Their refusal to take a stand is cowardice–the opposite of being a leader. It’s one of the most important issues debated this year, and they won’t go on the record.

    Let’s keep pressing them.

  • Mark

    Regarding Edgar’s posts, #6 and #&:

    Edgar is referring to shale oil, which is far different from light sweet crude. The refining process involves blasting massive amounts of rock with massive amounts of super-heated water. This has two consequences:

    1) It creates vast lakes of toxic slurry — not something you’d want to live next door to even if you lived in the wide-open Dakotas.

    2) More to the point, developing this kind of energy takes so much energy that it ends up being uneconomical. As energy nerds would put it, the EROEI (ratio of energy return on energy invested) is not anywhere near as favorable as it would be with a conventional crude-oil field.

    Every so often you see a story in the media about the miracle of big shale oil reserves. But with existing refining technology, the notion of this becoming a vast source of cheap energy is basically a mirage. So forget about a return to the days of cheap gasoline. Those days are over.

  • Mark

    OK, Edgar’s posts were numbers 7 and 8. I’ll put my fingers to bed for the rest of the day!

  • It took a Village

    I am as partisan a Democrat as they come, but this is the most self-service, intellectually dishonest bag or crap I’ve seen in a long time. Mr. Bing thinks this is democratic because Democrats got to speak to Shelly?! In that case, why do we even need congress? I mean, as long as all the cabinet officers and Governors get a chance to talk to W. who needs votes? How contemptible.

  • vnm

    I just want to know what PLANET Brodsky is living in if he can think that preventing a vote on an important matter is in the interest of democracy, AND THEN SAY SO OUT LOUD.

  • rhubarbpie

    I would have preferred an open vote; it is better to have an open debate on the floor. Clearly, though, this was going down, so I’m curious what people think an actual vote would have done.

    We have a very good idea of where each assembly member was on this, using their public statements, etc. A vote would have merely confirmed that the majority of assembly members opposed congestion pricing, right?

    Or do you think O’Donnell, Glick and the others would have come around just because their vote was recorded? Somehow, I think not.

  • Isn’t this what we can have a state Constitutional Convention about?

    There are extremely undemocratic powers that need to be stripped from the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader and given back to the elected representatives.

  • brent

    rhubarbpie- “A vote would have merely confirmed that the majority of assembly members opposed congestion pricing, right?”

    Yes, that may be correct- and you and I would know exactly where our respective representatives stand on CP. Instead, the ASSembly chose to leave us in the dark by closing the backroom doors, killing the proposal, and coming up with different lies to tell to cover their behinds.

  • I just did a little research and it seems a constitutional convention can voted on by the voters every 20 years. The last time, in 1997, the voters rejected the idea of having one.

    Anyone know why this was? Seems like we should have – we still have the same Albany dysfunction…

  • rhubarbpie

    I do know where my representative stands, though I realize that isn’t the case for everyone, Brent, because he — under pressure from constituents like me — sent an e-mail outlining his views. And I agree that having everyone on the record in an open debate would have been better. But I see the focus on this question as misplaced, because this was going down no matter what.

    Beyond that, though, a lot of assembly members and other elected officials did release statements or are on the record in some way about congestion pricing.

    It may make sense to collect all these statements, quotations, etc. since virtually every one of them prefaced their opposition to congestion pricing with some words about how much they love mass transit, want transit to be funded adequately, hate traffic, are environmentalists, have a hybrid, never use a car, are off the grid, have a carbon footprint of one toe, etc.

    This will be useful as we move to the next round — getting $ for transit and beating back traffic using other tactics.

  • Dave H.

    A little long, but here it is.


    Amendments to Constitution

    Section 1. Any amendment or amendments to this constitution may be proposed in the senate and assembly… If the amendment or amendments as proposed or as amended shall be agreed to by a majority of the members elected to each of the two houses, such proposed amendment or amendments shall be entered on their journals, and the ayes and noes taken thereon, and referred to the next regular legislative session convening after the succeeding general election of members of the assembly, and shall be published for three months previous to the time of making such choice; and if in such legislative session, such proposed amendment or amendments shall be agreed to by a majority of all the members elected to each house, then it shall be the duty of the legislature to submit each proposed amendment or amendments to the people for approval in such manner and at such times as the legislature shall prescribe; and if the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of the electors voting thereon, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of the constitution on the first day of January next after such approval.
    2. At the general election to be held in the year nineteen hundred fifty-seven, and every twentieth year thereafter, and also at such times as the legislature may by law provide, the question “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” shall be submitted to and decided by the electors of the state; and in case a majority of the electors voting thereon shall decide in favor of a convention for such purpose, the electors of every senate district of the state, as then organized, shall elect three delegates at the next ensuing general election, and the electors of the state voting at the same election shall elect fifteen delegates-at-large. The delegates so elected shall convene at the capitol on the first Tuesday of April next ensuing after their election, and shall continue their session until the business of such convention shall have been completed. Every delegate shall receive for his or her services the same compensation as shall then be annually payable to the members of the assembly and be reimbursed for actual traveling expenses, while the convention is in session, to the extent that a member of the assembly would then be entitled thereto in the case of a session of the legislature. A majority of the convention shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, and no amendment to the constitution shall be submitted for approval to the electors as hereinafter provided, unless by the assent of a majority of all the delegates elected to the convention, the ayes and noes being entered on the journal to be kept. The convention shall have the power to appoint such officers, employees and assistants as it may deem necessary, and fix their compensation and to provide for the printing of its documents, journal, proceedings and other expenses of said convention. The convention shall determine the rules of its own proceedings, choose its own officers, and be the judge of the election, returns and qualifications of its members. In case of a vacancy, by death, resignation or other cause, of any district delegate elected to the convention, such vacancy shall be filled by a vote of the remaining delegates representing the district in which such vacancy occurs. If such vacancy occurs in the office of a delegate-at-large, such vacancy shall be filled by a vote of the remaining delegates-at-large. Any proposed constitution or constitutional amendment which shall have been adopted by such convention, shall be submitted to a vote of the electors of the state at the time and in the manner provided by such convention, at an election which shall be held not less than six weeks after the adjournment of such convention. Upon the approval of such constitution or constitutional amendments, in the manner provided in the last preceding section, such constitution or constitutional amendment, shall go into effect on the first day of January next after such approval.

  • I am also stunned that politician can stand up and praise the Albany-approach as examples of democracy.
    To slightly misquote David Yassky from his last paragraph in an
    article on his take of the CP future in the same observer edition:
    “I’m not just looking for a silver (side-)lining,” … 🙂

  • Larry Littlefield

    Ie. state convention: (I just did a little research and it seems a constitutional convention can voted on by the voters every 20 years. The last time, in 1997, the voters rejected the idea of having one. Anyone know why this was?)

    Yes I remember it well. Former Governor Cuomo was pushing in favor of the convention.

    But the public employee unions, lobbyists, certain business groups, and the legislature were opposed.

    They raised lots of money and put out a series of ads, repeated over and over, that said that if there was a convention existing political interests would control who got elected to it, and we’d spend a whole lot of money and end up with something worse that before.

    Literally, that’s what they said. We’ve got you, and there is no way out.

    It is the exact same as Brodsky’s anti-CP argument that if the state and local govenrments get any more money for anything, he and the others would simply divert it to powerful organized interests no matter what.

    It’s a good argument.

    I, of course, voted FOR the convention anyway even though I wasn’t as knowledgable at the time how bad things were.

  • Edgar

    ” So forget about a return to the days of cheap gasoline. Those days are over”

    Good news. So basically that implies that this is just political grandstanding on Dogan’s part.

    One of those times I’m glad legislators don’t really get anything done!

  • md

    What’s wrong with paying teachers more? They’re leaving the system in droves. If you haven’t noticed, the DOE spends a fortune on newspaper ads begging people to take the job.

  • Thanks for the history and constitutional quotes.

    LL – Frankly they might be right. Who would nominate the members to a Constitutional convention?

  • md


    Your memory is a bit faulty. Lots of progressives were against the convention. Too much of a chance that a new constitution would be worse.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (What’s wrong with paying teachers more? They’re leaving the system in droves. If you haven’t noticed, the DOE spends a fortune on newspaper ads begging people to take the job.)

    Under the proposed legislation, existing teachers get to retire at age 55 without paying much of anything.

    But new teachers, the one we are looking to hire, will be forced to contribute far more to pension funds, reducing their take home pay. So much more, compared with the additional benefits they receive, that Bloomberg and the UFT claim that the city saves money be having less well off future teachers (I disagree).

    This kind of “screw the newbie, flee to Florida” deal has been done over and over again. It’s how we get the $25K cops.

    That is why the deal was done in the dark. Imagine a public debate as to whether the city would be forced to hire future teachers at lower compensation levels, hurting education in the long run, or services for children would have to be slashed in the short run!

  • Larry Littlefield

    I meant the passed legislation. I guess I still can’t believe they did it.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    It was a committee of the whole, as it were.

    A committee of the whole means something specific. It does not mean 104 out of the 148 members.

  • Spud Spudly

    Is there any wonder why despite being the oldest democratic system in the world — indeed, the oldest continuous system of government of any kind anywhere — no other nation has exactly copied the US model of government?

  • md

    Larry, which is it – does the new pension plan cost teachers more or the city? The Chief says it will save the city $300 million over the next 25 years. You seem to agree by saying that new teachers are being forced to pay for the plan. But then you say you disagree that the city saves money.

    BTW, I agree with your point about the next generation of teachers being screwed in favor of the current crop of soon-to-be retirees.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Larry, which is it – does the new pension plan cost teachers more or the city? BTW, I agree with your point about the next generation of teachers being screwed in favor of the current crop of soon-to-be retirees.)

    The new teachers are definately screwed to pay off those leaving, as they will be forced to contribute far more to the pension plan from day one whether they leave at 55 or not. It works out to be a financial loss for them. Those over 55 can walk out immediately without paying a dime; those older just pay a few years.

    As for the city, the jury is out. The city has increased its pension contributions by $100 million, while cutting spending in the classroom. Bloomberg and the UFT claim that’t it.

    But based on what assumptions? I believe their assumptions on future investment returns continue to be excessive to justify the deals, as in the 2000 enhancement (described as free). Moreover, I don’t think they included the cost of retiree health care — they just ignored it. Paying more health care premiums for retirees means less for those working one way or the other.

    So the answer is both — the new teachers are screwed, and the children are screwed, and the taxpayers are screwed. And if the new teachers are screwed enough to affect the quality of teaching, the children are screwed again. But at least the state has taken steps to ensure that if the city is forced to hire incompetents, they will automatically be granted tenure.

  • md

    Tenure is not automatic. The issue is whether data can be used unscientifically to deny tenure. Really, though, tenure has little impact on the system. Principals often get rid of teachers they don’t like (mainly for political reasons, in my experience). Those teachers just end up somewhere where they are wanted or needed. Often such “incompetents” are good teachers and are appreciated in their new positions.

    When Klein talks about the difficulty of “firing” bad teachers, he’s talking about getting their licenses taken away from them. That’s hardly an issue in a revolving-door system, where a lot of talented people jump ship before tenure is granted or soon thereafter.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (That’s hardly an issue in a revolving-door system, where a lot of talented people jump ship before tenure is granted or soon thereafter.)

    Enriching the pension and cutting take home pay for new teachers is hardly a way to retain them.

    I expect that now that the powers that be got what they wanted out of the CFE lawsuit — a massive increase in spending OUTSIDE NYC and earlier retirement with richer pensions inside, the budget for actual teaching will be cut back to what the state legislature considers appropriate.

    We’ll go back to the 1990s pattern. Teachers will come here, be incompenent for a year or two until they are trained, then move on as someplace else gets the benefit. Those who continue to be incompetent or demotivated will remain in the city schools.


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Can’t wait for someone to challenge Shelly Silver, Deborah Glick, Hakeem Jeffries, Joan Millman and other members of the Albany crew that didn’t allow congestion pricing to even come up for a vote? Neither can the New York Times. In a scathing editorial published on Saturday, the Times issued a call for change in the […]

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