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I’ve admittedly been over-fascinated by the “coup” that took place in Albany yesterday. Interestingly, one of the potential scenarios if the Democrats were to regain control of the Senate places our own David Valesky at the top of the list to assume the position of fallen Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. Although this is unlikely for the time being, if the Democrats do regain control of the chamber anytime within the next year or two, it is probable that Smith will be out as leader of the Democrats, and someone like Valesky will be in.
Rather than going on and on chronicling what happened yesterday (there’s great video over at Capitol Confidential) I’ve been thinking a lot about the dramatics of what happened. A couple of weeks back my wife and I watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (for me it was about the tenth time, but it was my wife’s first viewing). Today I was watching through some of the video of what happened, and I discovered that the scene in Albany for the past couple of days must have mirrored what Frank Capra envisioned when he made Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Indeed, the characters in yesterday’s coup match up pretty closely with the characters in the movie.
Jefferson Smith as played by Malcolm Smith: Bright-eyed, hopeful, ignorant of human nature.
Senator Joseph Paine and Chick McGann as played by Dean Skelos and Pedro Espada (Hiram Monserrate as stunt double): Pawns who will eventually come to regret their roles.
Jim Taylor as played by Tom Golisano: Arrogant, obsessed with power and control, his never-ending supply of money and clout allow him to be a player where he doesn’t belong.
President of the Senate as played by Tom Libous: Vocal, yet largely unimportant.
Governor Hopper as played by Governor David Paterson: Absent.
Saunders as played by Angry Protesters outside Sen. Espada’s Office: Mad as hell and not going to be pushed around anymore.
Diz Moore as played by the rest of us: dazed and confused, trying to sort out the mess.
I promise this will be my last post directly commenting on the situation in Albany, but it needs to be said again that a strong push for intergovernmental reform in our local and state politics is critical. Although Tom Golisano would have you believe this new government will be bi-partisan, the reality is that the new Senate chamber will be controlled by 30 Republicans and 2 Democrats who were power hungry and thirsty for some member items.
These are the kinds of days I fear. Not much news this morning after a great weekend, just to be shocked back into reality by the announcement that the New York State Senate is now controlled by Republicans again, after a political coup by two NYC-area Democratic Senators.
The two defecting Senators are socially conservative Democrats: Hiram Monserrate of Queens and Pedro Espada of the Bronx. The Senators have apparently been upset with former Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith’s leadership since the Democrats took control of the Senate after last November’s elections. Pedro Espada was quickly appointed Senate President and Dean Skelos as Majority Leader. Espada’s defection comes after he had previously entered a power-sharing agreement which allowed Malcolm Smith to assume his leadership role this past January.
The immediate impact of this sudden change is major. As the NYS Legislature is winding down for the year, there are several important proposals left on the table that will probably not come to a vote, including a bill already passed in the Assembly which would legalize same-sex marriage in New York.
While the story has not yet been reported in this manner, I would not be surprised if the coup was pushed forward because of Malcolm Smith’s support of the same-sex marriage bill, and the traction the bill was gaining in the Senate. It was widely rumored that part of the power-sharing agreement previously entered into between Smith, Espada and Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. (another NYC-er) premised Smith’s role as Majority Leader on his agreement not to bring the same-sex marriage bill to the floor.
All of this cries out for the need of intergovernmental reform not just in our local politics, but in our state capital as well. By too many this coup will be viewed as business as usual in Albany. But for those of us who have been on one side of many of these bills that the Republicans will not support, the view is much more dismal. Just when we were so close to making some decent progress toward change, it seems we will fall back into the same partisan battles of yore.
If you are unhappy with these shenanigans, please feel free to comment below and discuss how we can begin to reform government at home, and in Albany.
UPDATE: The political junkie, Ken Rudin, certainly lends some credence to my theory regarding this afternoon’s defection.
Part two of our series on initial goes to promote progress and sustainability in Central New York focuses on intergovernmental reform. Here we will address the ways government needs to learn to work smarter, better and cheaper for its citizens. The question of intergovernmental reform may be answered if you think about the question: how long are we intending Project X to be around for? If the answer to that question exceeds ten years, then the project is really for our children and grandchildren, so the project should be approached with standards that will help it endure and be competitive for generations to come.
Ten Goals for Intergovernmental Reform
- Promote a unified effort by all local governments to ensure that all new projects which have municipal financial support are sustainable and geared toward the long-term growth and development of the community.
- All county and city legislative and judicial elections (and to the extent they remain, all town positions) should be non-partisan, i.e. candidates cannot identify with or accept money from local political parties. Our legislators and judges should be beholden to all of their constituents, not just the ones who write them checks in November.
- Consolidate municipal courts in towns and cities around Central New York. This will reduce cost and promote ease of administration in our judicial system.
- Restructure Onondaga County Legislature and Common Council to reduce number of seats to a number more consistent with other communities our size.
- Expect all legislators and politicians to pledge that any Federal stimulus money the area receives for infrastructure projects is to be used first for only necessary projects, and any surplus should be used to help Syracuse become a city of the future, and not a city of the past.
- Our community should have an organized and professional apparatus which lobbies consistently in Albany and Washington D.C. to bring more programs and funding to Central New York. We cannot rely on all of our local elected officials to make repeated treks to our capitals alone, we need professional assistance.
- Merge municipal police and fire departments into one Public Safety department. This will save on costs and also promote the uniformity of crisis response in our area.
- Reduce the overall size of government, retaining only those persons who are qualified to serve based on their merit, not based on their political affiliation.
- Eventually institute one (possibly a couple) regional governments throughout Central New York and eliminate the County/City/Town/Village apparatus as we know it in favor of smaller, more effective and efficient regional government.
- Strive in all that we do to promote Economic Sustainability (Goal 1) and Neighborhood Revitalization (Goal 3).
This is the first of a three-part introduction that will lay the foundation for this blog’s ethos: creating a progressive and sustainable Central New York community. Here we will focus initially on economic sustainability, with the understanding that this encompasses more than just creating jobs.
When we speak of economic sustainability, we really mean creating and maintaining long-term jobs in high-growth industries which recognize that our cities are in a state of great change, and seize on the opportunity to explore new technologies and embrace sustainable growth.
The second part of economic sustainability focuses on, of course, sustainability. Syracuse has already bestowed on itself the title of “Emerald City”, now it is time to live up to our new motto. Below is a non-exhaustive list of several steps that could/should be taken in order to advance the goals of economic sustainability. These goals and others will build the foundation for discussions on this blog.
Ten Goals for Economic Sustainability
- Create one cohesive umbrella organization which can effectively advocate on behalf of the various neighborhood and economic development groups sprinkled throughout the city, which include: Armory Square, Eastwood Neighborhood Association, Greater Strathmore Neighborhood Association, Lincoln Hill Association, Near West Side Initiative, Outer Comstock Neighborhood Association, Sedgwick Farm Neighborhood Association, Tipperary Hill Neighborhood Association, Westcott East Neighborhood Association and all of the various community watch, religious groups and others we haven’t mentioned.
- Cultivate high-growth industry clusters throughout the city. We should refuse to accept WalMart development deals which do not create long-term jobs which pay a living wage, economic sustainability or a focus on the future.
- Invest in our area’s economic infrastructure, which includes fulfilling the long-discussed goal of a major transportation terminal.
- Create a city-wide bikeway system, which would encourage the use of bicycles for commuting and reduce traffic and alleviate parking issues.
- Ensure that rapid rail and commuter rail lines promote public transportation and change the way we think about cars and trains.
- Invest in a public internet structure which provides free wireless internet throughout the city, giving all people who have computers access to information. This needs to be coupled with more access to computers for those without them.
- Target specific industries for infrastructure investments, including biomedical research, media, arts and culture, and green energy research (solar, wind, etc.).
- Establish more green space and parks and making sure that impoverished neighborhoods have as many parks as the wealthier neighborhoods.
- Tear down I-81.
- Create an urban land bank which would allow the government to create shovel-ready sites to those industries targeted for infrastructure support.
This list is not meant to be complete, and is certainly open for a lot of debate (on the I-81 issue, see Onondaga Citizens League). Feel free to join in.
Over at Walkable Eastwood there is a great post on POMCO’s proposal to tear down the old “Ausman” building and replace it with a two-story mixed-use building, i.e. part parking garage, part office space. This is a perfect example of what keeping our “eyes on the street” means. A basic principle of planning is that you do not want to turn a building inward, you do not want it facing away from the street.
POMCO’s proposal calls for the first floor to be a 17-space parking garage with windows (probably opaque) and the second floor to contain office space. The rear part of the building will contain additional parking that will connect with Walgreen’s parking lot. This raises two questions: (1) is parking a huge problem in Eastwood and (2) is this type of development given tacit acceptance by residents because the status quo is untenable?
The current state of the “Ausman” building is a major eyesore on these re-developed blocks of Eastwood. But should residents just accept a business proposal for renovation because there is nothing better likely to come along?
This same question is coincidentally being raised at the other end of Eastwood, where Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll is proposing a demolition of the old Steak and Sundae building. Mayor Driscoll’s plan calls for demolition and development of the site as green space until an appropriate commercial tenant for the site can be identified.
Driscoll’s rationale for the demolition belies the current development taking place at the other end of Eastwood:
Clearly, the investment community has viewed this area as a difficult place to make an investment in, and in fact, has not. There needs to be some kind of compromise to find a new balance.
All this leaves us with the decision of what kind of neighborhood do the Eastwood residents want to see developed. One that gives favor to commercial tenants like Papa Johns and Dunkin Donuts, or one that encourages sustainable development by companies that bring many long-term jobs to the area.
These questions play themselves out around the county in various forms. Our opinion is that in order to foster economic sustainability, places like Eastwood need to be united in their opposition to accepting the first commercial tenant that comes along, and need to raise expectations for businesses that would like to be a part of our communities.
Welcome and feel free to check out our About page for a background on Eyes On The Street. Right away I think it’s important to establish what we hope to get out of this blog and this community. As a resident of Syracuse and Central New York, I believe we all basically want the same things: job security, affordable housing, quality education and safe streets. The trick is how do we make all that happen in a world that is changing by the minute?
The answer can be constructed by first identifying some basic goals. From there we can explore different strategies, steps and priorities to achieve those goals. The three goals that I believe we should all share are: economic sustainability, intergovernmental reform and neighborhood revitalization. You will see in later posts that from these three basic goals, we have the essential building blocks of a strong community.
I hope you will stick around for this journey, and I certainly welcome comments, suggestions and questions either in the comment section or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.