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June 27, 2013

Plenty of room for improvement in Albany

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The Daily Star

---- — “A missed opportunity.” 

That’s how Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, characterized the past legislative session in Albany. 

We think he was being polite. 

Don’t get us wrong — it’s not as if the Legislature did nothing. The NY SAFE Act, which put in place stringent gun-control measures on the heels of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, put Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration in the national spotlight. 

The cynics among us might argue that Cuomo’s push to make New York the first state to respond to Newtown did more harm than good, if only on a public relations front. But the law offers prudent and common-sense approaches to a serious problem. 

However, we were disappointed to see Cuomo’s 10-point “women’s agenda” left on the table. 

When he finally released the details of the bill, five months after promising that he would “change the lives for my daughters and your daughters and your sisters and your nieces and your wife and your significant other and every person in this room,” it ran into immediate opposition from pro-life advocates, who argued that it expanded abortion rights too greatly. 

Although proponents fought to keep the focus on other facets of the legislation, such as fighting sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and human trafficking, the poor manner in which it was handled made it almost impossible to pass. 

By first insisting on an all-or-nothing approach, then shifting to urge lawmakers to pass portions of the bill independently, Cuomo and his supporters alienated legislators on both sides in a gambit that smacked of the worst of Albany politics. 

Lopez, who has been in Albany since 2006, doesn’t always seem to fit in there. And we mean that as a compliment. As he said recently, “There is a huge disconnect between Albany’s priorities and the priorities of the people I am serving.” He noted that politics often take precedence over getting things done — something that seems to frustrate the hard-working assemblyman. 

It frustrates us, too. And it’s telling that this legislative session will likely be remembered, not for the bills that did or didn’t pass, but for scandals that fulfilled the  worst stereotypes about Albany. 

There was Vito Lopez’s resignation after being accused of sexual harassment. There was Sheldon Silver’s cover-up, which used taxpayer funds to keep the Lopez scandal quiet. And there were corruption charges brought against four lawmakers. 

So the session is being summed up by headlines such as, “How New York Became One of the Most Corrupt States” (on a May 10 NPR.org story). 

“Missed opportunity”? Yeah, you could call it that. But there’s another word that comes to mind, too — one that has almost become synonymous with “Albany”: Dysfunctional.