In the weeks and months ahead an enormous amount of attention will be paid to the transition of the White House to a new president. But little if any of the spotlight shines on Albany, New York, the home of our state capitol where its rich history has disappeared and been replaced by the demands of the voters for a more streamlined process.
Let’s start with some of the traditions of the past. By law, the state legislature must start the new year on the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday of the month. That’s not my language, it’s in the state constitution. Opening day was once an exciting event for both the general public and the members. The words of great and not so great governors provided some memorable and not so memorable moments.
The late Nelson Rockefeller brought his renowned charm and international aura into the flower-bedecked chamber. His personal cadre of advisors included Henry Kissinger, Richard Parsons and many other celebrities of the future. There are a few who still recall Governor Hugh Carey, in the wake of New York City’s near bankruptcy, warning the members that “the days of wine and roses are over.”
On one occasion, Governor Mario Cuomo, whose relationship with the legislature was often contentious, interrupted his formal remarks and referred to the assembled members as a “bunch of monkeys.” New York’s interim governor David Paterson, who rose to power overnight, due to Governor Eliot Spitzer’s sudden resignation, struggled mightily to look and sound like many of his predecessors.
Those memorable days are now over and probably never to repeated until some future governor chooses to once again begin the start of a legislative year in the same place where Governors Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt charted the state’s future. In the first departure from custom, Governor Andrew Cuomo combined his budget announcement with a formal event in the very cold and unattractive Albany convention center. This year the governor will venture to four different parts of the state to present his plans for 2017. The words will be important but the glamour of the past will be gone.
The legislative process in Albany has also changed dramatically. Back in the early 1960s, members thought that having microphones at each desk was revolutionary. There was one catch to that reform, as the Speaker could turn your microphone off if you were on his bad list. This was followed by the installation of an electronic board showing how each member was voting.
Fast forward to 2017. There are no longer piles of bills on a member’s desk. Instead there is an iPad where, if you have good eyesight, you can read the legislation that is being debated. Members cannot cast a vote and disappear as the system prevents that from happening. As far as historic debates, there are few if any on the floor of either house.
To the credit of the current leadership in today’s Albany, laws are made and the needs of the public are recognized. Unlike Congress, there are on-time budgets and agreements on difficult issues. But somehow the charm and the nostalgia of the past have disappeared, never to appear again in that fabled city. Maybe that’s the way it should be, or maybe not.
Former State Assemblyman Jerry Kremer is a partner at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek in Uniondale. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.