Gianaris, Onorato Support Legislative Reform Plans; Ognibene Challenging Mayor In GOP Primary Ion politics By John Toscano
Assemblymember Michael Gianaris, a leader in Assembly reform efforts, greeted last week’s bipartisan agreement on a comprehensive reform plan as a move in the right direction, “but in no way the end of our efforts to effect major substantive reforms in our state.”
Meanwhile, state Senator George Onorato, pointing to the Assembly action, said initial signs are encouraging for similar action in the Republican-controlled senate, which will consider the same reform plan next Monday.
Gianaris (D–Astoria) stated: “We need sweeping new reforms to make government more efficient.”
The lawmaker, who has championed legislation to establish an independent commission to redraw legislative districts, added that the tentative agreement on Assembly rules changes, represents a noteworthy first step that will improve the day-to-day functions of the legislature.
The tentatively agreed upon changes call for an end to empty-seat voting by requiring slow roll calls on each bill; open meetings of the Assembly Rules Committee, the powerful panel which virtually controls the Assembly’s working rules; conducting annual budget hearings to ensure a public review, and restricting lobbyists’ access to the Assembly chambers.
Another important change would require both the Assembly and senate to pass a concurrent budget resolution in early March, setting out a timetable for key budget decisions and to negotiate differences between the two houses to achieve a more timely state budget. The budget has not been passed by April 1, the date set by legislation now in force, in more than 20 years.
Gianaris’ redistricting proposal would establish an independent commission to reapportion legislative districts every 10 years. Presently, this vital function is controlled by legislative leaders in each house. Removing that function from the legislature itself, and removing, along with it, the conflicting motivation for legislators to draw districts that primarily insure their own re-elections rather than connect communities that share natural boundaries and local concerns, Gianaris said in a news release, would be preferable.
“We need a fair process leading to more competitive elections and a more representative government,” Gianaris stated. “I will continue to fight for reforms that will end the gridlock and make our state government more responsive and transparent.”
Onorato said that prior to next Monday’s senate meeting to consider procedural reforms, senate Republicans and democrats will be working together to Develop new senate rules that legislators of both parties can support.
The veteran lawmaker noted, “With the vast majority of the 2005 legislative session still stretching before us, I can’t help but hope that this early emphasis on legislative reform and bipartisan cooperation is a sign of more good things to come—such as true state budget reform—and that legislature and governor will finally provide New Yorkers with the more open and efficient state government they are rightfully demanding.”
SELECT ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE CHAIRS: Last week, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, leader of the Democratic majority announced appointments to the following leadership positions and committee chairmanships for Queens Democratic lawmakers.
•Assemblymember Ivan Lafayette (Jackson Heights), Speaker Pro Tempore.
•Assemblymember Anthony Seminerio (Ozone Park), Majority Program Committee chair.
•Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (Ridgewood), Banking Committee.
•Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer, Consumer Affairs and Protection.
•Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry (East Elmhurst), Corrections.
•Assemblymember William Scarborough (Jamaica), Children and Families.
•Assemblymember Margaret Markey (Maspeth), House Operations.
•Assemblymember Brian McLaughlin (Flushing), Real Property Taxation.
•Assemblymember Mark Weprin (Bayside), Small Business.
•Assemblymember Ann Margaret Carrozza (Bayside), State–Federal Relations.
PROPOSE HONOR FOR VALLONE SR.: Citing former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone’s years of dedicated service and the help and advice he has tendered to the Mount Sinai Hospital of Queens, the board of directors of the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition (CALDC) has proposed naming the hospital’s new Emergency Room in honor of him.
In his almost three decades as Astoria’s city council representative before being succeeded by his son, Peter Vallone Jr., three years ago, Vallone Sr. consistently aided the former Astoria General Hospital in securing city funding aid to improve the hospital’s physical plant.
Ognibene OpPOSING BLOOMBERG: It appears that former City Councilmember Thomas Ognibene has again changed his mind about staging a Republican primary challenge against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the latest word being that Ognibene is set to take on the mayor in a fight for the GOP nomination.
Ognibene, who formerly represented Middle Village in the council, said he felt someone in the party should challenge the mayor, a Democrat-turned-Republican, and since no one else has as yet entered the race, he decided to do it. He said he was encouraged by fellow party members.
Campaign financing will, of course, be a problem. The mayor has $4 or $5 billion in his personal piggy bank to use as he sees fit. Ognibene, an attorney, has raised little so far and will depend on the city campaign financing program to fill most of his war chest.
What sort of support Ognibene will muster is questionable. Although the 61-year-old pol holds a high position in the Queens Republican organization, we’ll have to wait to see if County Leader Serphin Maltese or Councilmember Dennis Gallagher will back him or Bloomberg..
Another question mark is the city council’s top Republican, Minority Leader James Oddo of Staten Island.
Meanwhile, the mayor has fortified his campaign staff by hiring three experienced people with interesting backgrounds.
Patrick Brennan is an official of the most powerful labor union in the city, Local 1199/SEIU, which is headed by Dennis Rivera, the most powerful leader in the state. The question is can Brennan tap the union for some support for Bloomberg. In his re-election two years ago, Republican Governor George Pataki was endorsed by Rivera and his powerful hospital/nursing home workers union. So it’s not impossible that Bloomberg can do the same.
Equally interesting is another hire from the Democratic Party, Stu Loeser, an aide to United States Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat. He helped Schumer in his recent re-election victory. Four years ago, Loeser worked for Mark Green, who lost to Bloomberg. Loeser will, it is hoped, be able to attract Liberal Dems to the mayor’s cause.
The number three pick for the mayor was Kevin Fullington, a former chief of staff to Oddo.
The well-funded Bloomberg campaign is loaded with experienced, well-connected operatives who will supplement his expected awesome television campaign for re-election. The mayor is expected to flood the airwaves with his record on education, reduction in crime, his favorable budget actions and his expected victory on rezoning the West Side of Manhattan to trigger a huge burst of economic activities and jobs.
DEM CANDIDATES SETTING UP: Reports were coming out of the Democratic mayoral camps last week that Council Speaker Gifford Miller was sharpening the knives to start attacking his primary rivals, front-runner Fernando Ferrer and Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D–Queens/Brooklyn).
A story in the New York Times of January 6 reported that a memo leaked from the Miller campaign outlined a strategy in which Miller would attack Ferrer for doing nothing in the post-September 11 period, which coincided with his defeat by Mark Green in the Democratic mayoral primary. Immediately after 9/11, the city was grappling with an economic recession and large budget deficits.
The leaked memo also allegedly said that Miller would attack Weiner as an ineffectual lawmaker.
Miller’s campaign spokesperson denied there were any such campaign plans. He was careful to avoid any talk of targeting Ferrer because if Miller did win the primary and become the candidate against Bloomberg, it might cost him support in the Hispanic community .
A spokesperson said Ferrer has been working for the past four years to try to help the poor and will not be drawn into a negative campaign.
Weiner defended his record and also attacked Miller as a “me too” speaker who rubber stamps most of the mayor’s budget and other actions.
Meanwhile, Miller hired several experienced campaign aides, including Mark Mellman, a highly regarded pollster; Brian Hardwick, who has extensive experience in national Democratic campaigns and who will be Miller’s campaign director; Terrance Tolbert, who will direct field operations, and David Chai, a former press secretary in the Department of Education.