"Improving Albany" Takes Center Stage at NYU Wagner Forum
The question of what to do about New York’s indictment-prone State Legisature took center stage at an all-day conference at NYU Wagner on April 30 entitled “Improving Albany: A Path to Greater Effectiveness.”
The forum's galaxy of participants — Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, former Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch, New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, and many others — discussed the legal, electoral, budgetary, and political reforms required to enable the Legislature to regain public confidence and tackle policies and issues that matter in the lives of millions of New Yorkers.
Richard Brodsky, who served in the State Assembly and is a Visiting Adjunct Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Wagner, hosted the conference along with Wagner’s Dean Sherry Glied and Richard Ravitch.
The morning panel included: Columbia law professor Richard Briffault, chair of the NYC Conflict of Interest Board and a former member of the state Moreland Act Commission to Investigate Public Corruption (2013-14); Peter Goldmark, a veteran state government executive and most recently Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s climate and air program; Common Cause's Executive Director Susan Lerner; and Vance. Dean Glied was the moderator.
For the afternoon panel, Auletta of the New Yorker was joined by Mayor Miner, who described the frustrations posed by the state’s “opaque” budget approval process; Mary Louise Mallick, a former senior policy maker with the New York State Senate Finance Committee; and former city Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is now Chairman of the New York State Housing Finance Committee and the State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA). Brodsky moderated the discussion.
Both conversations were lively, showing the complexities of preventing public corruption and what approaches are possible. Recommendations ranged from drawing clearer lines between legal and illegal conduct to requiring greater transparency, along with passing public campaign finance reform and — at least in the view of some of the speakers — setting term limits for legislators.
Some of the panelists said it's up to the Legislature's leadership and its younger members to improve accountability, raise the bar for impact and effectiveness, and lead the way out of Albany’s "swamp." Since they haven’t acted so far, “they’ve made themselves an easy target,” said Susan Lerner.