Thursday, June 25, 2009

Martin Van Buren is Rolling Over in his Grave

Martin Van Buren (and Tippecanoe) from Forty Four Presidents by Maria Sputnik & MZA

I don't usually blog politics here, but New York has become completely BONkERS!

Some really important stuff has already passed the state Assembly and is waiting on the Senate for approval. Like the marriage equality bill, which will extend the right to marry to millions more people. And the bill to repeal vacancy decontrol*, which when passed will be the biggest victory for New York tenants in decades and preserve affordable housing in New York City.

But instead of doing their work, the Senate has been throwing a hissyfit. Two Democrats went over to the dark side on June 8 and the Republicans grabbed power. But then one of the two defected back again, so now the Senate is tied 50/50 (actually, 32/32). And since the majority party sets the agenda and there's no majority, nobody will vote on anything. The regular legislative session ended and Governor Paterson called the Senate back into a special session, and said he'd keep forcing them to show up until they voted on everything they are supposed to.

Yesterday I joined a group of folks from Housing Here and Now to lobby the senate to repeal vacancy decontrol. A group of about 40 of us in red "Real Rent Reform" tee shirts kept up a presence in the halls of the Capital, holding signs, handing out flyers to Senators and staffers, chanting, and generally reminding the senators by our presence that they should set aside their doofusness and folderol because there are real people depending on them. Housing advocates plan to maintain a presence in the capitol and keep showing up day after day until our bills are voted on. And showing up is making a difference - at first, the agenda governor Paterson set for the special session didn't include the housing bills, but the next day, it did.

But how much work did the Senators actually do yesterday? None. The Democrats snuck into the Senate chamber at 6:30 a.m. and maintained "control" by sitting in the big seat at the front and locking the Republicans out. At 3 pm when the special session was to begin, the Republicans didn't show up. One Democratic senator raised a "point of order" that they didn't believe the governor was empowered to call them into special session unless the Assembly, which didn't have a melt-down and is legitimately done for the year, was called back, too. Then, since the Republicans had boycotted and there wasn't a quorum, they closed the session. Here's a New York Times article on the day's events. My favorite quote is Governor Paterson's non sequitur: "Martin Van Buren is rolling over in his grave."

Five minutes of work. Forty or so of us who care about affordable housing took a three hour drive to Albany, and spent four hours lobbying in the capital. Instead of watching our bill come to the floor, we got to watch the Senate remain in session for five minutes. Boo on the New York Senate for wasting everyone's time. Maybe we'll get lucky and be colonized by Italy.

So please, New Yorkers out there: if any of the issues that you care about are in limbo, please call or email governor Paterson and your Senator. Tell them not to go home until they save our homes.

In writing this post, I went looking for a day's events article in the Daily News. All today's political coverage is about South Carolina governor Mark Sanford's affair. It seems political turmoil is much more interesting if it happens in another state. Oh, and also: crop circles have been caused by drunken wallabies.

*What's vacancy decontrol? It's a gigantic loophole in New York's housing law that lets landlords charge whatever they want for an apartment that used to be protected under New York's rent control law as soon as the legal rent reaches $2000. You can learn more about it here. (pdf)

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