The “Three Men in a Room” Rule Albany, Can Mayor Adams Get a Seat at the Table?

UPDATED (April 1, 11 am)

State lawmakers were sent home yesterday, with a budget vote possibly coming on Monday. If the budget is not signed into law before 4 p.m. on Monday, the state comptroller’s office is prohibited from distributing paychecks to state workers.

Bail reform remains the big issue separating Gov. Kathy Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Here’s where things stand on bail and other top issues in the budget.

A week down the road, on April 1st, New York State will have a budget, the first budget without the imprint of Andrew Cuomo in a dozen years. The New York State Constitution, at least as interpreted by the Court of Appeals, (See Pataki v Cuomo here) grants the governor sweeping authority to determine the size of the budget and to add non-budgetary items to the budget. Governor Patterson and the legislature failed to agree on a budget in 2008, the state limped along for months without a budget; it is highly unlikely that a governor and a legislature will risk another budget crisis. (See detailed discussion of the budgetary powers of the governor here)

“Three men in a room,” (this year two women and a man), the governor, Kathy Hochul, the Speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie and the Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Majority Leader of the Senate, will joust. While all the leaders are democrats this doesn’t lessen the combative nature of the process. Cuomo ruled with an iron fist, with a democrat-controlled Assembly and a republican-controlled Senate Cuomo guided the process. Today, with a governor facing a June primary, and, if victorious a combative November election probably against Suffolk Country Congressman Lee Zeldin, the legislative leaders are far more powerful than in prior years.

The process: in late January the governor releases the executive budget, in early March the Assembly and the Senate “one-house” budgets and the negotiations begin.

Governor Hochul included a four year extension of mayor control of New York City schools in her executive budget, a new governor and a new mayor collaborating, a single sentence in the voluminous 166-page budget document.

NYC Mayoral Control. The Executive Budget provides a four-year extension of Mayoral control of the New York City school system.

The 2002 Mayoral Control law contained a sunset provision; unless the law was extended it defaults to the previous decentralization law, a central board, one member appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor and 32 local school boards elected in May in a ranked choice voting process. The law has been extended, albeit with some drama a couple of times, and in 2019 with amendments, one member would be elected by the local councils, CECs, the mayor retains a majority and the members could be replaced at any time by the appointing authority.

On March 4th a joint meeting of the legislative Education Committees met,  many, many hours of public testimony, a five minute pitch from Mayor Adams from his car, a lengthy presentation from Chancellor Banks, the leaders of the teachers and supervisors unions asked for amendments to the law and about forty other speakers, including half of the school boards ( Community Education Councils), all calling either for the ending of the law or replacing mayoral appointees with parents, or, reducing the mayoral appointees to less than a majority.

A few days later the leaders of both houses of the legislature announced the budget would only contain budget issues, non-budgetary issues would follow the normal legislative process. Mayoral control would be dealt with after the budget in May and June or in a likely July or August session; due to the June 28th primary the last day of legislative business is June 2nd.

Mayor Adams zipped up to Albany to plead for his mayoral control extension, to no avail.

It wasn’t surprising that CEC leaders, who are public school parents, were agitated, Adams was on the verge of appointing Joseph Belluck, a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees and leader of the SUNY Charter School Institute as the leader of the Panel for Educational Priorities, the NYC School Board; Belluck withdrew as criticism of his appointment mounted.

Adams finally appointed his nine members to the 15 member PEP, and almost immediately rescinded one of the appointments due to openly homophobic comments; the head of the PEP is the father of Adam’s deputy communications director and three of the appointees have strong ties to charter schools, The NY Post reports,

Mayor Eric Adams appointed a top charter school administrator and a slew of close allies to the Department of Education’s oversight board Tuesday to a mixed response.

While proponents of school choice welcomed several of the new faces, charter foes from DOE watchdogs to union representation questioned the picks with strong ties to the privately operated schools that receive public funds.

“It’s concerning that so many of Adams’ appointees have ties to charter schools, as they have interests contrary to our public schools,” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters.

The next day, the newly appointed, very newly appointed Board failed to approve an $82 million contract, only the second time in the twenty years of mayoral control that the Board failed to approve a contract; a feeble attempt to show independence from the mayor.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teacher union, rued, “Every board gives members fixed terms, and, the mayor doesn’t need a majority, if he can’t attract one vote the issue is probably not a good idea.”

In Albany the governor and the legislature are dueling over cash bail, funding child care, health care for undocumented, a range of contentious and important issues, Adams is awkwardly stumbling over extending mayoral control, and apparently not willing to compromise. 

Adams seems to be shrugging off appointments with a background of homophobia, would he have made appointments of candidates with racist or anti-Semitic backgrounds? The LGBTQ community and electeds are outraged,

State Senator Brad Hoylman said the mayor seems to have a “blind spot” that these appointments “make the L.G.B.T.Q. community very uneasy” in the current environment.

“We were too nice to him,” said Cathy Marino-Thomas, chair of Equality New York. “Maybe he needs to see the other side. It’s a little nastier.”

Mr. Adams has presented himself as an ally of the L.G.B.T.Q. community and frequently reminds them of his support for marriage equality when he was a state senator. But opponents of his appointments say that’s not enough.

Crystal Hudson, a Black councilwoman from Brooklyn who is a co-chairwoman of the City Council’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Caucus,

“In the meeting he referred to himself as the biggest supporter of the L.G.B.T.Q. community,” Ms. Hudson said. “Actions go further than words.”

Adams needs Albany far more than Albany needs Adams, if Cuomo does not enter the gubernatorial primary race Hochul will coast; if Cuomo enters the race Hochul will need a wide coalition of democrats, including Adams.

The November General Election could be a tough race, Hochul needs to maximize her voters in New York City, and Adams, again, is a key ally.

With Zeldin, a Trump supporter and a charter school supporter trying to emulate the republican victory in Virginia, hitting on teaching CRT in schools and soft on crime, Hochul and the entire democratic slate need public school parents in their corner.

Has Adam’s ego gotten in the way of political realities?  Will Albany ignore his pleas?

Gideon John Tucker was an American lawyer, newspaper editor and politician. In 1866, as a judge of New York County he wrote in a decision of a will case: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” In whatever has replaced the smoke-filled backrooms in Albany “miracles” can happen.

Stay tuned.

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