2005-02-02 / Political Page

Onorato: GOP State Senate Changes Add Up To ‘Real Reform Rejected’ I

on politics
By John Toscano


Last week in the state senate, the Republican majority passed some changes in senate rules. State Senator George Onorato charged that the changes missed the mark completely. “State Senate Republicans have given the three R’s a whole new meaning: Real Reform Rejected,” he declared.

The veteran Astoria lawmaker added, “Unlike the state Assembly, which acted in a bipartisan manner a few weeks ago to make fundamental changes to its operations, the state senate majority has wrongly decided that the status quo, with a little window dressing, constitutes legislative reform.

“It’s truly a shame that the senate Republicans couldn’t follow the lead of the Assembly and fully involve members of both parties in devising a meaningful set of bipartisan reforms. Making state government more responsive and open shouldn’t be all about politics—it should be about the business of governing.”

Onorato said the only place the Republicans came close to addressing concerns stated by the Brennan Center for Justice, which branded the New York legislature the most dysfunctional in the nation, was a ban on empty-seat voting. Even this new rule provides senators opportunities to bypass it, he pointed out. “For example, senators will not be required to be in their seats when votes are taken on legislation deemed to be uncontroversial.”

Onorato said he and his Democratic colleagues in the senate voted overwhelmingly against the so-called reforms, believing they do not go nearly far enough to open up the operations of the senate or to give lawmakers more clout in making public policy.

Beside the ban on empty-seat voting, the GOPers also approved rules changes to authorize committee chairs to hire and fire staff, to end party line voting, to reduce the number of committee meetings held during a session and to require all bills to be accompanied by majority and minority reports on legislation being considered.

Onorato said he didn’t necessarily oppose any of those changes, “but they could have done so much more.” For instance, the minority Democrats proposed a series of amendments to the changes proposed by the Republicans, all of which were rejected.

These would have called for eliminating the Senate Rules Committee to ensure that legislation is adequately reviewed and acted upon by substantive senate committees before coming to the floor for a vote and requiring the legislature to remain in session if a budget is not adopted by the April 1 deadline.

Other Democratic proposals would:

•Allow ranking minority committee members, or any three members of a committee, to call for a committee vote on a bill or to hold public hearings;

•Make it easier for senators to request that a bill be discharged from the panel and be brought to the floor for a vote;

•Require a two-thirds vote to accept “a message of necessity” from the governor, rather than have a three-day review of the legislation, and permit an immediate vote on a bill, and

•Provide equal resources for all senators, regardless of party affiliation.

Two weeks ago, when Assembly Democrats approved their reform measures, Assemblymember Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) was in the forefront of the movement. Gianaris’ bill to establish an independent commission to reapportion legislative districts every 10 years, is still to be acted upon.

CROWLEY GETS CAMPAIGN POST: Congressmember Joseph Crowley, Chief Democratic Whip in the party congressional hierarchy, has been chosen to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Business Council for the 2006 cycle. In the 2002–2004 cycle Crowley raised close to $1 million for the DCCC and Democratic candidates.

The selection of Crowley was announced by Congressmember Rahm Emanuel (Illinois), the DCCC chairman. He noted, “Joe has strong ties to the business community and understands their concerns.”

Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx), in accepting the post, said he had established a strong relationship with the business community since entering Congress in 1998 and he would use that relationship to raise funds to try to win a Democratic majority in the 2006 elections.

Besides being Chief Democratic Whip, the Elmhurst lawmaker is the only member of the Democratic leadership to serve on the Financial Services Committee, where he was recognized for his work in passing the U.S.–Australian Free Trade Agreement.

The DCCC Business Council was developed in the 2004 cycle to build stronger relationships with the business community.

MAYOR MOVES TO SHORE UP GOP SUPPORT: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, facing a Republican primary from major Queens GOPer Tom Ognibene, moved quickly last week to meet the challenge by enlisting one of the top Republicans in the city, Guy Molinari of Staten Island, to his cause.

The mayor also recruited Herman Badillo in his campaign to defeat Ognibene, which could be a severe test for him. Bloomberg defeated Badillo in the 2001 Republican primary, but Ognibene should be a far more serious opponent, since his Republican roots are many more times deeper than Badillo who deserted the Democratic Party in 1998.

The mayor’s link to Molinari, the former Staten Island borough president who played a major role in Rudy Giuliani’s successes in New York City, is especially important since the borough will be a major battleground in the primary and Ognibene has some support there from City Council Minority Leader James Oddo.

It’s significant in assessing the knockout blow that Ognibene might deliver by defeating the mayor in the primary that top aides to the mayor offered Ognibene a job with the Bloomberg mayoral administration prior to Ognibene’s announced challenge. The mayor obviously wanted a clear path to the Republican nomination. Ognibene had made it known several months ago that he was thinking of taking on Bloomberg in the primary, which could have been behind the job offer. Coming before Ognibene’s announced candidacy, the offer violated no law.

MAYORAL NOTES: Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, who’s running for mayor, has signed up a tested campaign veteran, Diane Feldman, to handle all her campaign polling duties. The Washington-based Feldman last worked in Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign polling women’s issues. Feldman’s appointment will be followed by selection of media experts to get Fields’ message across on radio and television.

MONSERRATE FUNDRAISER: Next Tuesday evening, February 8, City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate (D–Corona) will hold a re-election campaign fundraiser at Bruno’s on the Boulevard, 88-25 Astoria Blvd., East Elmhurst from 6 to 9 p.m.

MARSHALL SWEARS IN RYAN: Queens Borough President Helen Marshall officiated last Sunday morning at the installation of Herb Ryan as president of the JFK Regular Democratic Club at the Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills. Also on the guest list for the occasion were Congressmembers Gary Ackerman, Gregory Meeks and Anthony Weiner, former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., present Speaker Gifford Miller, and other elected officials. Ryan is recognized as one of the workhorses of the Queens Democratic organization. The JFK Club male leader is former Councilmember Morton Povman; the female leader is Charlotte Scheman.

FOCUS ON NEW IMMIGRANTS: Reaching out to new immigrants in Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst, the New Visions Democratic Club recently changed its constitution to allow “anyone who subscribes to the ideals and values of the Democratic Party” to join the club. Previously, only enrolled Democrats were permitted to join, according to Daniel Drumm, the club’s founder and Democratic district leader in the 39th Assembly District Part A.

“We have many new immigrants who come to the club but aren’t yet registered to vote,” explained Drumm. “We wanted to allow them full participation in the club, so it was only logical that we change the constitution to allow our neighbors to join.”

The 39th AD was created in 2002 because of the huge increase in its immigrant population. Assemblymember Jose Peralta was elected as the first Hispanic from Queens in the Assembly that same year.

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