Sunday, December 28, 2014

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NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt's daily look Inside City Hall.

NY1 ItCH: It's Pretty Vacant in Albany

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At the rate that state lawmakers are quitting their jobs or getting convicted, Albany is turning into a setpiece for "Lone Survivor".

Every time you turn around, it seems that another legislator is biting the dust. Over the weekend, upstate Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak resigned in the wake of a wide array of sexual harassment allegations made by seven former female staffers. And yesterday, Bronx Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was convicted on federal corruption charges – making him automatically vacate his seat.

That brings the number of empty chairs in the legislature up to 11 – nine in the Assembly and two in the State Senate. But it's very unclear if those seats will be filled until a year from now because Gov. Cuomo has shown little interest so far in holding a special election. While that may not seem like a big deal – would you not want to be represented in Albany for a year? (Wait, looking at some of these guys maybe that's a bad question). But should no special elections be held, about five percent of the legislature will be empty this year.

While the outcome of the State Assembly special elections would likely have little impact on the heavily-Democratic body, it's a little bit trickier in the State Senate where the Republicans run things with a group of renegade Democrats. One of the vacancies is in heavily-Democratic Brooklyn where Eric Adams was just elected borough president but the other empty seat is on the battleground of Long Island where Republican Charles Fuschillo resigned to become chief executive of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Even if Fuschillo's seat should switch to the Democrats, the coalition running the Senate would maintain control – although its hold would become more tenuous.

All of this potential electioneering could serve as a distraction for the governor who wants to get re-elected this November without a lot of extra political hoopla between now and Election Day. A spate of special elections takes up time and money away from that blueprint and creates the possibility of making this year's legislative session a little bit bumpier.

Meanwhile, the good-government advocates are calling for the governor to act. "I think it has great significance if the residents of the districts are not represented at all in one house or the other when these important policy issues are being decided," says Susan Lerner, the head of Common Cause New York.

Citing the costs of holding a special election, Cuomo was cold to the idea in November, saying: "It’s a balance of the cost and the hardship of the election versus the community’s right to representation but we don’t have any plans as of now. "

It's a political headache that may keep growing for Cuomo, though. With two other State Senators under indictment and another Assemblyman facing sexual harassment charges, the revolving door could keep spinning. Cuomo, meanwhile, may have to use a lot of spin to explain why he wants some New Yorkers to wait a year until they're represented in the State Capitol. It's not always easy being the last man standing.

Bob Hardt

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