No Voices In Albany

Pols Want Special Elections For Vacancies

Millions of New Yorkers in a dozen vacant state legislative districts are without a voice in Albany, and elected officials and civic activists called on the governor last Thursday, Mar. 6, to have the empty seats quickly filled.

Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and others gathered on the steps of City Hall to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to proclaim special elections in nine Assembly districts and two State Senate districts that have been without representation since the start of the year.

One such vacancy is in the 54th Assembly District covering parts of Bushwick and Cypress Hills, which was previously held by Rafael Espinal, who stepped down on Jan. 1 after being elected last November to the City Council.

The 20th State Senate District seat in western Brooklyn became vacant on New Year’s Day after Adams resigned to become Brooklyn’s new borough president.

James noted the majority of the 11 state legislative vacancies were the result of lawmakers either winning offices in city government or acquiring jobs in the private sector.

The number of vacancies grew by one after last Thursday’s press conference when Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. was expelled from the 55th District in eastern Brooklyn upon his conviction on federal corruption charges.

In all, there are now 12 vacant Assembly and State Senate seats, leaving over 1.8 million people without a voice in either chamber-a situation which the public advocate declared to be “unacceptable, especially as critical issues are being deliberated.”

State legislative sessions generally run between January and June each year. March is the most critical part of the session as the legislature and governor hammer out the details of the next state budget.

Moreover, James noted, “at least half” of the vacant districts represent communities in which minority groups make up the majority of the population.

“For the sake of good government and fair representation for all, we must have special elections in districts with missing representatives and we must do so now,” the public advocate said last Thursday.

“The birth of our nation almost 230 years ago was sparked by our foremothers and forefathers fighting against taxation without representation,” Adams added. “I am confounded that, in 2014, we have to demand for redress of this grievance right here in Brooklyn. … With 11 vacant seats, there are nearly 1.8 million New Yorkers whose voice has been stifled or silenced by this failure of democracy.”

Under state law, the governor may call a special election at his/her discretion for a vacant legislative seat. If a special election is called, the race must be held no sooner than 80 days after the governor’s proclamation.

The special election winner would take office immediately upon certification of the results and hold the office through the end of the term on Dec. 31. He/she would have the option for running for a full term in the Nov. 4 general election.

Political insiders suggest Cuomo may be reluctant to call the special elections because turnout at the contests tends to be anemic and party leaders, rather than voters, decide their respective nominees.

If Cuomo opts not to call a special election, the vacant legislative seats will be filled in the November general election, with the respective party nominees chosen by voters through statewide primaries currently scheduled for September. The legislature is considering a bill to move the contests to June to coincide with Congressional primaries.

However, that would mean each of the districts would go a year without representation in either the Assembly or State Senate; the new lawmakers would take office on Jan. 1, 2015.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called on Cuomo to hold special elections for the vacant legislative seats in January. In a Jan. 17 report, the New York Daily News quoted Cuomo from a radio show appearance as being cool to the idea for both political and economic reasons.

“It seems like every week there’s another open seat given the travails of our friends in the legislature,” Cuomo stated on the Jan. 17 “The Capitol Pressroom” talk show. “If you have to do special elections, they are very expensive to do because you basically have to run a separate election. So it’s not something you want to do likely.”

The Times Newsweekly reached out to the Governor’s office for comment; no response was provided as of press time Wednesday afternoon, Mar. 12.

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