Albany all-nighter yields legislative results

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a news conference in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany (Feb. 29, 2012) (Credit: AP)

ALBANY - ALBANY -- It was an all-nighter like few have seen -- a caustic legislative marathon marked by walkouts, insults on the State Senate floor and early-morning calls from the governor cajoling lawmakers for their support.

But when the air cleared early Thursday morning, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators had approved a package of major legislation that will reduce pensions for future government employees, expand casino gambling in New York, and draw new boundaries for Senate and Assembly election districts. The state's criminal DNA database will be broadened, and the redistricting process will be overhauled following the next U.S. census.

Cuomo had promised to foster government transparency when he took office in 2011, but acknowledged Thursday that practicality sometimes has to trump civics. "The trick is, at some point, you have to stop the dialogue and force the action," Cuomo told reporters.

Cuomo also tried to deflect complaints that he had used the redistricting issue to force lawmakers to approve his pension and casino measures. If Cuomo had vetoed the bill, the courts, not legislators, would be in charge of drawing new boundaries for this year's elections.

"They aren't threats," Cuomo said, talking generally about the power a governor has over legislators. "They are articulations of options."

But a variety of lawmakers and activists decried the process. The last of the bills, revising pension benefits, passed the Assembly by a vote of 92-46 at 7:24 a.m., about 18 minutes after sunrise.

Unions, protesting Thursday on the Capitol lawn, criticized a "midnight deal" to cut pensions. One protester carried a sign reading: "We were stabbed in the back on the Ides of March."

When voting began late Wednesday, state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) told Republicans to take the redistricting bill and "shove it," saying it was drafted illegally, violates minorities' voting rights and protects Republican incumbents.

Republicans soon closed debate and called the vote. In protest, 26 Democrats walked out. They would not return, even though all the other controversial bills remained. Republicans have a 32-29 edge over Democrats in the Senate, with one vacancy.

"Last night was a farce and we wanted no part of it," Gianaris said Thursday. "It showed that all these grandiose claims of a new era of openness in Albany were not well-founded."

"It was childish on their part," countered Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). Democrats "had a fit" and "walked out like children," he said. "They do not know how to govern."

The Democrat-led Assembly sailed along until, as dawn approached, it became apparent there weren't enough members on the floor to pass the redistricting bill. Leaders stalled for time for hours, according to news reports. Cuomo didn't deny reports that he had phoned Democrats to rally support.

"I was talking to legislators all the time," Cuomo said. "But I do that all the time."

Cuomo acknowledged that he wanted to slam through the bills and waived the customary three-day waiting period between printing and voting on a measure. Going the normal route, he said, would have opened up endless debates.

Ken Brynien, head of the Public Employees Federation, called the episode "disgusting."

"I mean, doing it when everybody's asleep and then putting stuff in the press that won't appear till the next day," Brynien said. "It just defies any sort of credibility in my mind, especially when you have a governor that says he wants the transparency." With Ted Phillips

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