Editorial Roundup: New York

Albany Times Union. February 21, 2024.

Editorial: A permanent ethics fix

With New York’s current watchdog facing legal peril, state lawmakers need to start working toward a constitutional change

A New Yorker born at the turn of the millennium has lived under four different state ethics enforcement structures: the two-headed State Ethics Commission/Legislative Ethics Committee (established in 1987); the Commission on Public Integrity (the 2007 body created by the merger of the State Ethics Commission and the Temporary Commission on Lobbying); the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (2011); and our current panel, the hilariously named Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government.

While COELIG is less than two years old, the entities that preceded it were different in many ways but distressingly similar in their serial failure to sniff out, investigate and punish the ethical misdeeds of elected officials and high state officials. That is, in part, why that same 24-year-old New Yorker has seen two of our six most recent governors resign in disgrace and a platoon of corrupt state lawmakers hauled off to prison only because of federal law enforcement efforts.

There are, of course, people who might view this parade of often sleepy watchdogs as a feature and not a bug in state government. Based on recent history, those observers would include former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose now-defunct political career was marked by his desire to control any investigation that veered anywhere close to him. Last week, Mr. Cuomo’s attorneys — desperate to scuttle COELIG’s investigation into the production of his 2020 quickie COVID memoir, “American Crisis,” which put more than $5 million in his wallet — went before an appellate court in an effort to uphold a state Supreme Court justice’s decision that said the ethics panel’s structure was constitutionally unsound because it took too much power away from the governor.

As we have been saying for years, the state needs a transparent ethics body appointed by a range of elected officials, with safeguards in place to guarantee independence and protect its operations from — well, from politicians like Mr. Cuomo, who in 2014 throttled his own Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption midway through its work and helped create the inept and compromised JCOPE. COELIG isn’t perfect, but it’s a significant improvement over what came before.

While the outcome of this particular legal challenge is uncertain — and will likely be heard by the state Court of Appeals — it is clear even at this point that New York has to craft a far more permanent solution to the problem of ethics enforcement by hammering out a constitutional amendment. That process could put the proposal up for a statewide vote as soon as November 2025 if lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul act with appropriate dispatch.

The negotiation to frame out a better ethics body would contend with all the issues raised during previous reinventions — from the concerns of the lobbying industry to the worries of lawmakers (and even the governor) that the panel might overstep its mandate and go rogue. But if New Yorkers really want to serve their fellow citizens — those born in 2000 as well as the ones arriving in 2030 or 2060 — it’s time to address public corruption in a more permanent fashion than the musical-chairs style of recent decades.


Oneonta Daily Star. February 16, 2024.

Editorial: Mail-in voting rights must be protected as election nears

An election year brings with it plenty of buzzwords and phrases that become part of the day-to-day conversation. One that’s already making an impact early in 2024 is mail-in voting.

Last week, a New York State Supreme court judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to do away with the state’s Early Mail Voter Act.

Passed last September, the act was opposed by conservatives for allegedly being unconstitutional due to the fact that it was passed by the state Legislature rather than via constitutional amendment.

The decision found that nothing in the state Constitution explicitly prohibits the Legislature’s power to pass laws concerning alternative methods of voting.

Unless the GOP’s appeal is heard and agreed upon, the Early Mail Voter Act will be in place for the national election on Nov. 5.

With such a heated election cycle already underway, the effects of decisions like this will only become more pronounced. These are the kinds of measures that can help improve the nature of our elections, while the measures taken to oppose them represent how fraught the sanctity of those elections is.

Submitting a ballot from somewhere other than a polling place has become much more common in recent years. As recently as 2018, almost 60% of voters cast in-person ballots on Election Day.

But in 2020, spurred in large part by the coronavirus pandemic, around 43% of voters sent in a ballot by mail while in-person voting and early voting each comprised around 30% of voters according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. It was the first time ever that those two voting blocs were the same size.

Even after the pandemic, voting rates in the 2022 midterm elections remained higher than pre-pandemic levels according to the EAC, with more than 35 million mail ballots cast and counted.

The Early Mail Voter Act will allow for easier and more widespread access to this kind of voting.

Before the law was passed, there were certain criteria that needed to be met to be eligible for an absentee ballot in New York: voters either needed to live outside their county on Election Day or be unable to appear at a polling place due to physical illness or disability.

The new law essentially does away with those requirements, opening absentee ballots to any and all voters who request one. This is referred to as “no-excuse absentee voting.”

With so many of us so busy all of the time, it’s often a chore to get to our designated voting location at the proper time. This new legislation will help eliminate the stress of missing out on submitting a ballot for many.

Unfortunately, mail-in and absentee voting has become the source for countless conspiracy theories centered around the 2020 election, with everyone from former President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin falsely claiming that widespread voter fraud led to Joe Biden’s victory.

In the wake of Trump’s defeat, several Republican-controlled states have attempted to more strictly enforce rules focused on mail voting. Voting rights groups are concerned about the potential impact of these rulings, especially those concerning deadlines for receiving mailed ballots.

The impact of early voting was felt earlier this week right here in New York state.

Democrat Rep. Tom Suozzi won Tuesday’s special election in the 3rd District to replace disgraced former GOP Rep. George Santos.

Suozzi’s victory over Mazi Pilip cut into the Republicans’ thin House majority and could point the way for Democrats competing in similar races elsewhere.

His triumph may have even been helped by the recent winter storm in the New York City area as, like many other Democrats, he built up an advantage thanks to early votes.

Candidates on both ends of the political spectrum are seeking any advantage they can find as election season heats up. Early voting is one that is ripe for the taking.

More importantly, though, early and mail-in voting allows for the most number of voters to have their voices be heard. Any attempt to restrict that access runs contrary to every notion of our democratic values.


New York Post. February 19, 2024.

Editorial: Tom Suozzi’s win shows the voting map is fair — but is that good enough for greedy Dems?

Tom Suozzi’s victory last week is strong proof that New York’s voting districts were drawn fairly — and Democrats’ demands for new ones reflect nothing but greed.

Suozzi, a Democrat, prevailed decisively in the special election to fill the congressional seat left vacant by George Santos’ ouster.

Santos, a Republican, had captured the seat in the 2022 midterms.

In other words, the current voting map, drawn by a court master before the midterms, first produced a Republican win, and then a Democratic one just 15 months later in the same district.

Clearly, New York’s congressional districts weren’t rigged to ensure either party would maintain control.

Alas, that’s not good enough for Democrats.

They wanted the deck stacked in their favor: The map Dem lawmakers drew in 2022 — after the bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission failed to produce one — was designed to limit Republican seats to a maximum of just four, of the state’s 26.

The state Court of Appeals rightly tossed the Dems’ map, since it blatantly violated the state constitution’s ban on gerrymandering, and the fairer one that replaced it, drawn by the court master, led to Republicans winning 11 seats, helping the GOP gain control of the House.

That, recall, sent Dems reeling. Republicans can’t be allowed that many victories, they huffed.

So they sued to force another round of mapmaking, preposterously claiming the new map was legally good for only one election.

They also packed the top court with judges who’d grant their wish — and sure enough, it ordered the IRC to draft yet another map.

Yet Suozzi’s victory shows the current one is fair, and Dems can win with it; they don’t need to gerrymander, unless their goal is to shut out competition. (Talk about threats to democracy!)

The IRC seemed to agree Thursday: It approved a new map that’s very similar to the existing one.

Still, that may not satisfy greedy Dem lawmakers, who can legally nix the IRC plan and replace it with their own.

Yes, any voting map must theoretically pass constitutional muster and not favor a party, but the court — which, again, Dems rigged — would ultimately decide if it did.

Meaning New York could soon be saddled with unconstitutionally gerrymandered voting districts that lock out Republicans for years.

Nothing could be more politically unhealthy than a one-party monopoly ruling the state for decades.

If Dems go that route, New Yorkers should respond with a monumental voter revolt to take back their democracy.


Buffalo News. February 20, 2024.

Editorial: State should move quickly on regulating cave and similar boat tours

Regulation and oversight have been long overdue for the Lockport Cave boat tours.

It’s not unreasonable or even unusual to run a boat tour in a cave – such attractions are found worldwide – but it must be safe. The Lockport Cave boat tour was not safe, as shown by two recent accidents. One of them, a capsizing on June 12, 2023, caused one death and 11 injuries. The tour has been closed ever since, but there have been no assurances about safety upgrades coming from its owner or from the City of Lockport.

New York State is right to step in. There are currently two legislative proposals before lawmakers. One, from Gov. Kathy Hochul, would grant the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversight of the boat tour. The bill calls for inspections of vessels operated in caves and similar waterways, and would penalize owners for operating without a certificate of inspection.

Another piece of legislation was proposed by State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, a North Tonawanda Republican, last summer. Ortt’s bill requires that State Parks regulate “geological, man-made mechanical boat attractions on man-made waterways, tunnels and lakes.”

The State Legislature would need to approve the governor’s bill, and it should. If it’s appropriate to include any of Ortt’s provisions that might enhance the legislation, that should happen too. Both bills would provide public safety oversight that has so far been lacking in this area. Ortt indicated that he’s on board with the Hochul proposal in a recent statement: “I agree with what this legislation seeks to accomplish.”

Let’s get these provisions made into law. The Lockport boat tour may or may not reopen: This is a big “if,” given multiple civil suits over the June capsizing, including claims from the family of Harshad Shah, the man who died in the accident. However, there are other similar attractions across the state.

People are understandably fascinated by tunnels and caves. Indeed, the Howe Caverns, despite its isolated rural location between Cobleskill and Schoharie, is one of New York’s most popular natural wonders, second only to Niagara Falls. Like Lockport, Howe includes a boat ride. Though the Lockport “cave” is really a manmade tunnel, its popularity depends on a similar experience.

It’s an experience that needs to be safe, wherever it happens. New York lawmakers should move quickly to provide regulation that will help protect residents and tourists.