"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.
"The Hidden Lives of America’s Poor and Middle Class”
Jonathan Morduch, Professor of Public Policy and Economics at NYU Wagner, has co-written an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, describing the U.S. Financial Diaries project he leads. The ongoing project deeply explores the financial lives of individual American families of lower and middle income levels. It illuminates, in part, the phenomenon of unsteady household income and expenses, and how this volatility can hamper the ability of working families to gain economic stability and upward mobility. At the same time, the project shows that financial products, programs and policies created to help working households are sometimes ill-suited to the day-to-day challenges these households actually face – whether they are living below or well above the poverty line.
Professor Morduch is Executive Director the Financial Access Initiative, a consortium of researchers focused on the most pressing issues of financial inclusion in the U.S. and in developing countries. He created the U.S. Financial Diaries project with colleagues Rachel Schneider – with whom he co-authored the article – and NYU Wagner graduate Daryl Collins (PhD, 2010).
"There's nothing comparable to public service" - Former Mayor Edward I. Koch [Video]
Former New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch, who died in the early-morning hours Feb. 1, led an informative, entertaining hour of discussion in the fall of 2010 at NYU Wagner about his eventful three terms at City Hall – years that sparked a remarkable turnaround in the condition and character of much of New York City, noticeable to this day.
Joining Koch was Jonathan Soffer, NYU Polytechnic associate professor of history and author of a critically acclaimed biography, Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City (Columbia University Press, 2010), as well as Wagner's dean Ellen Schall, who introduced Koch as “my mayor," noting that she had worked extensively for city government, including as the commissioner of juvenile justice.
“City government, I say to all my students, is really the most amazing opportunity,” she commented. “It allows you to work on incredibly important issues, have much more authority as a young person that you have any reason to have, and make a huge amount of difference.”
Koch spoke passionately about the merits of embarking on a career in public service.
“There’s nothing comparable to public service,” he said. “More than saying ‘How am I doin’?’ … more than that I said 10,000 times that public service is the most noble profession if it’s done honestly and if it’s done well. And that’s why people serve. There’s nothing like it.”
In this videotape of the Oct. 14, 2010 conversation at Wagner, the former mayor begins speaking at marker 15:48.