CONTROLLING COMPTROLLERS AND TEMPERING TEMPERS

 

 

By Edwin D. Reilly, Jr.

For The Sunday Gazette

 

                                         "No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

                                                                   New York State Surrogate Court Judge Gideon Tucker, 1866

 

     It was the biblical Gideon that carried the trumpet, though Gideon Tucker’s deploration has carried down through 141 years. In fairness to our own Legislature, the quote is often borrowed by the citizens of many another state to describe their own.

     There’s a word that is (almost) my own in my opening sentence. As one might gather from the quote, I am about to do something I do not like to do, that is, to deplore. But how might I describe the act? There is a gerund to describe what I’m doing while I am deploring, and I just used it. But what would be the noun that names the completed action? My dictionaries give no clue. I find support on the Web for both “deplorement” and “deploration,” and hereby opt for the latter, though my computer’s spelling checker doesn’t recognize either. “Deploration” sounds much stronger to me, especially when pronounced “dep’-loration,” there being no “ploration” to negate with a prepended “de.”

       It’s much easier to describe the aftermath of having declared something than having deplored it. The most famous usage is the Declaration of Independence. And it is customary to make declarations when going through customs. Long ago, Congress used to make declarations of war, but gave it up in favor of letting Presidents do the job for them.

    I don’t know whether students still need to do so when sitting for a Regents exam, but when I did I had to sign my work “I do so declare.” “Declare what, Sister?,” I asked the first time I encountered the alleged rule. Now, this was not an impertinent form of address, because my teacher was a nun, one devoted to teaching her students good habits. And I never knew a nun with a bad habit.

    “I do so declare” at the end of an essay is, I was told, shorthand for the oath “I hereby declare that what I have just written is my own work, no part of which has knowingly and deliberately been copied from someone else’s work without proper attribution.”

    Now for some deploration. Never, in all my years, have so many of our state legislators behaved so capriciously. Surely you know that I refer to that 150 to 56 vote to install an Assemblyman—a “hail fellow, well met”—as our new Comptroller rather than one of the three applicants deemed highly qualified by the screening committee that the Legislature and Governor Spitzer had agreed to use. I must, of course, exempt and congratulate our own Assemblymen, Paul Tonko and Jim Tedisco, for supporting our Governor rather than Assembly Speaker Silver, who has the power, and often uses it, to punish those who fail to ratify his every wish. But Senators Bruno and Farley and local Assemblymen McEneny, Canestrari, and Reilly (no relation) all voted for DiNapoli. And so did Alan Hevesi’s son Andrew.

      Every newspaper editorial I have seen on the subject took the Governor’s side of the contretemps over what they deemed Mr. Silver’s insistence that an Assemblyman be elected Comptroller in the combined session of the two houses of the Legislature, a process dictated by our strange, arcane, and verbose State Constitution. One lonely voice demurred, that of Fred LeBrun of the Times Union. Fred is firmly convinced that the Governor had it coming and that Silver could not have deterred his membership even if he had wanted to. Really?

      Perhaps I feel so flummoxed because, after being outraged by the actions of our disgraced and now former Comptroller, Alan Hevesi, I had decided to forgive him and vote for him at the last minute last November because his opponent had such a thin financial background.

      It never occurred to me to run for Comptroller (which, by the way, despite all those young TV reporters, is pronounced the same as “Controller”). But in a weak moment long ago, 1974, I did enter a primary for State Senate, one won by my friend Fred Isabella. Fred went on to win the general election, only to lose another primary two years later to Jack Quimby, who in turn lost the seat now held for 30 years by another friend, Hugh Farley. Hugh won the seat just in time, He told me that he was restless on the Niskayuna Town Board on which we both served but didn’t want to run for the County Legislature because, he said, “That’s where the elephants go to die.”

     I had two deviant ideas during that 1974 primary. The first was my public announcement that I wouldn’t accept donations to my campaign of more than ten dollars. Consequently, people figured that I didn’t need even that much.

     The other idea I still think a good one. Given that the Supremes had declared that congressmen (but not federal Senators) and all state legislators of any stripe were subject to “one person, one vote”—rotten boroughs” were summarily banned—I said that it would be much more efficient and certainly far less costly to establish a unicameral legislature of, say, 100 members. Nebraska has one and seems to function just fine. It did not always have; to review the arguments of the one diligent legislator that campaigned to effectuate the change, approved overwhelmingly by the state’s citizens, see http://nebraskalegislature.gov/web/public/history.

       In addition to equality of population, complete reform should require that each district must be compact and delineated by a non-partisan commission that is immune from the temptation to gerrymander. Just think, we could reach budget accord with just two men (or women) in a room rather than three.

      Another Schenectadian, Erwin Shapiro, also ran in that primary of 33 years ago, and when I described my plan Erwin said “Ed, I hope that I will live to see that because it would mean that I’m going to live a long, long time.” And were he still living, he’d still be waiting.

      I do so declare.

 

Edwin D. Reilly, Jr. lives in Niskayuna and is a regular contributor to the Sunday opinion page.