More progress needed in state

Gov. Andrew Cuomo used the recent State of the State address partly as a campaign tool, including boasts about his own record.

That’s nothing unexpected, however. It’s an election year, and governors always use this speech partly as a re-election ad.

While Cuomo does have accomplishments to brag about – including the fact the state is looking at a surplus and not a gaping deficit – and New York is more functional than it was, it hasn’t gotten more democratic during his time in office. As much as ever, New York is run by three men in a room, and none of them has much reason to fear being voted out of office. The system is tilted in their favor.

We agree with the governor’s statement that ethics reform is important for all New Yorkers, but he didn’t say anything about campaign finance reform. That’s not surprising, since he is the biggest beneficiary of New York’s loose limits on political fundraising, which leads to bribery and entrenched incumbents. What kind of opponent will stand up to someone with a $33 million war chest, as Cuomo has amassed? That’s why more than three dozen Republican legislators and county leaders are bypassing relatively qualified candidates like Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and instead trying to convince billionaire developer Donald Trump to run for governor, as the Buffalo News reported recently. When money becomes the name of the game, more important things are abandoned.

Cuomo also isn’t talking about term limits for Assembly leadership positions, another thing that would make New York more democratic by rotating the seats of power. The Senate has enacted its own eight-year limits, but Sheldon Silver has been Assembly speaker – one of the aforementioned three men in a room – for 19 years. He should have lost that post after he used $100,000 in public funds as hush money to pay off women accusing one of his Assembly allies, Vito Lopez, of sexual harassment.

His house of the state Legislature has a sexual harassment problem. Over the weekend, Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak resigned amid claims he, like Lopez, was a serial harasser. The governor, to his credit, had demanded that Gabryszak either deny the charges or resign, but he hasn’t publicly taken on the Assembly leadership. Silver on Sunday sounded a different tone from the past, saying, “As I have stated from the start, sexual harassment has no place in the state Assembly, and it will not be tolerated. Mr. Gabryszak’s decision to resign his Assembly seat is the right one.” In fact, with Lopez, Silver tolerated it and even enabled it. The Assembly is long past due for a change of speaker.

In 2012, Cuomo capitulated to legislative leaders on redistricting, which also hurt the cause of democracy. Having lawmakers draw their own districts clearly leads to gerrymandering, which gives incumbent politicians an unfair advantage over challengers.

Cuomo is a legacy politician, the son of a governor, comfortable in the seat of power. He knows how to get things done, which is an improvement after the dysfunction that has plagued the state in recent years, but reliance on powerful men before the will of the people is dangerous. Cuomo will do well as long as the things he gets done are what the people want rather than himself.