Schenectady City Councilman Gary McCarthy may indeed be right about the politics behind the state Legislature’s repeated passage of a bill that would make it tougher on the city to discipline its police force, but it seems like an assumption the city can ill afford to be wrong about.
Mayor Brian Stratton and the council should definitely keep working on the Assembly to defeat a bill, passed in the Senate earlier this session, that would force the city and other municipalities to use state arbitrators, rather than their own police commissioners, to crack down on bad-apple cops.
Who cares what’s happened in the past? A bill has passed both houses overwhelmingly three separate times, only to be vetoed by the governor; then no one bothered overriding the veto. McCarthy says that means the legislators really don’t want the law enacted, but merely passed it as window-dressing, trying to dupe unionized police officers — who would benefit — into thinking they do. That’s an interesting analysis, and it may even be accurate. But the city, which has had enormous problems getting state arbitrators to take its side in disputes with the police union — can’t bank on such an assumption. It just so happens there’s a new governor in town, and who knows what his feelings are about the law? David Paterson may well have discussed the issue with Stratton Wednesday, but he was still unwilling to indicate whether he’d follow the example set by his predecessors and veto the bill if it does pass the Assembly again.
And despite what McCarthy might think — that lawmakers have no interest in enforcing such a law — if it were passed and signed by the governor, you can bet that police benevolent associations in Schenectady and elsewhere would make sure it was enforced.
Special home-rule legislation to exempt Schenectady from the law, as Sen. Hugh Farley introduced Tuesday in a curious turnabout — he voted for the original bill a few weeks ago — would address the issue for the city, but other legislators from outside the region might not be willing to support it.
It makes the most sense for the Assembly to kill the measure dead, once and for all. We don’t, however, think the city needs to waste money hiring a lobbyist to make its case in Albany — which Stratton has done for the second year in a row now — especially if city council members adhere to the mayor’s request and write letters to Assembly members and the governor.