It’s a mistake to think of the stalemate in the New York State senate as the product of mere incompetence, as if the 62 members were simply unable to create a governing quorum. This is a bona fide power struggle in which the first side that blinks will lose.
From January 7 until early June, Democrats ran the chamber with a razor-thin one-vote majority. Then two renegade Dems, Pedro Espada of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate, joined with Republicans in a legislative coup that gave power back to the Republicans.
A few days later, Monserrate crossed back over to the Dems, leaving the chamber deadlocked at 31 to 31. The normal means of breaking senate ties – a vote cast by the Lieutenant Governor – is impossible because the man with that job, David Paterson, was elevated to governor when Eliot Spitzer resigned, and New York has no provision for holding special elections to fill a vacancy for Lieutenant Governor.
The question worth asking is why both sides remain so adamant about not letting the over side govern even temporarily. The answer is that billions of dollars and the entire political future of New York are at stake.
Before the GOP coup, Democrats were about to enact housing reforms that would have broken the stranglehold the real estate industry maintains on the state legislature. Issues like rent stabilization were about to tilt in favor of tenants before the coup.
Even more important than the real estate standoff is the political redistricting set to take place after the 2010 census. Next year, in keeping with the U.S. Constitution, the country will count all residents, after which state legislatures – in New York the state senate – will redraw all political boundary lines.
The fate of thousands of politicians who hold county, village and state offices across New York – not to mention the state’s congressional delegation– will turn on whether the lines drawn after the census place them in a friendly or hostile district.
That’s too much power to simply hand over. Expect the Albany stalemate to last a good while longer.
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Shelter Fight Continues
Crown Heights is continuing the fight to block an ill-conceived effort to transfer the city’s central intake center for homeless men from its midtown location to a residential neighborhood already overburdened with social service centers.
A lawsuit is being planned and could be filed in the near future. But it shouldn’t take a court order to make City Hall use common sense.
Statistics show that nearly 60% of all homeless men are in Manhattan, and many are mentally ill – yet the city remains determined to close the intake center on E. 30th St. next to Bellevue Hospital to make room for a luxury hotel.
The estimated 20,000 homeless men who seek shelter in New York annually will instead be diverted to the notorious Bedford-Atlantic Armory in Crown Heights, across the street from brownstones, churches and hundreds of seething homeowners.
The armory, among the worst-run in the city, is not close to any hospital. It’s also a known haven for drug dealing, prostitution and crowds of men who congregate in front of the shelter every day, trying to flag down passing trucks for work as day laborers.
A little over a year ago, I wrote about 41 Level 3 sex offenders – the highest level, reserved for the most violent criminals – listed on the state’s official criminal justice Web site as living at the shelter and the Peter Young residence, a privately run shelter across the street from the armory.
Bedford-Atlantic is part of a larger story of municipal failure. We recently passed the fifth anniversary of a promise by Mayor Bloomberg to cut homelessness by two-thirds within five years.
In reality, the number of homeless families has climbed 9.5% since the mayor’s announcement, to 9,538 from 8,712. And the current overall number of homeless people now exceeds the numbers when Bloomberg first took office in 2002.
To make matters worse, administration officials have been less than truthful about important parts of the half-baked Bedford-Atlantic plan.
Last September, Commissioner Robert Hess of the city Department of Homeless Services testified at a state Assembly hearing that the Bedford-Atlantic site would be spiffed up with a “state-of-the-art athletic facility.”
The idea was to make the site similar to projects in Washington Heights and Park Slope, Brooklyn, where small homeless facilities share armory space with first-class sports facilities – including the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
A Department of Homeless Services spokeswoman says the proposal is still on the table – but also confirmed that the recently passed 2010 city budget includes no money for a recreation facility at Bedford-Atlantic.
Hess also promised that his department would create a new Manhattan-based intake facility for the homeless. That’s another agreement that has changed: No new Manhattan facility has been identified, and the closing of the 30th St. intake center, originally scheduled for next week, has been delayed indefinitely.
My guess is that the administration will wait until after Election Day in November to announce where a new Manhattan shelter will be.
And despite making good on a promise to shut down the 150- bed, privately run Peter Young residence, Homeless Services says it is “not involved” and will take no position on an effort by the facility to place 100 homeless beds on the very same site under state auspices.
No wonder my neighbors are seeing red.
“This is the one issue in this community that has managed to unify the young and the old, black and white folks, longtime residents and gentrifiers alike,” says Mark Griffith, my friend and neighbor, who will chair tonight’s town hall.
That might be the only positive effect of the plan: bringing together an often contentious community in a joint fight against a truly bad idea.
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