We’re told we live in a representative democracy. But that requires political representation, and right now more than 1.8 million New Yorkers, in 11 different legislative districts, don’t have any. For this they can thank Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has sole discretion to call special elections and shows no inclination to do so.
Most of those seats are in the New York City area and are open for a variety of reasons, from resignation for a nonprofit job, to election for another office, to conviction for a felony. Closer to home, the 113th Assembly District seat, which covers eastern Saratoga County and includes Saratoga Springs, has been vacant since Jan. 1, when Republican Tony Jordan left to become Washington County district attorney. That’s two and a half months, and some of the seats have been empty for even longer.
Ideally, Cuomo would have called elections early in the year and the new representatives would have been seated in time for a vote on the budget, which is supposed to be passed by April 1. It’s way too late for that because the law requires 70 days from the time a special election is called until it is held. (And, unlike in the past, the budget actually has been on time or close to it under this governor.)
But while voting on the budget may be the most important thing legislators do, there are plenty of other things, from learning about issues to ceremonial appearances to constituent service. In the 113th there are some very important issues, including casinos and the future of Mt. McGregor prison in Wilton, which is slated for closure this summer. Voters deserve to have someone who will listen to, speak for and represent them on these matters.
Cuomo hasn’t given any real explanation for not calling special elections. He has mentioned cost — and they are expensive — but it likely has more to do with politics. He probably doesn’t want 11 different campaigns that may include criticism of his policies and programs; or controversial actions such as the SAFE Act; or controversial statements such as those regarding “extreme conservatives.” And he may not want to upset the delicate balance in the Senate, where a coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats constitute a majority, which he sometimes uses to his advantage.
Political expediency shouldn’t stand in the way of democracy. Nor should cost be used as an excuse, because it isn’t necessary to hold separate special elections. Primary Day is June 24, and as long as Cuomo calls for the elections 70 days prior, they can be held then and the new representatives seated in early July.
Otherwise, everyone must wait until November for the regular election and January for the new representatives to take their seats. It would mean a full year without representation for about 10 percent of New York state’s population. That’s unacceptable — in fact, disgraceful.