ALBANY — A state constitutional convention would be a taxpayers’ boondoggle that would result in “little to no value” to most New Yorkers, a former state assemblyman from Long Island contends.
Arthur “Jerry” Kremer makes the claim in a new book he titled “Patronage, Waste and Favoritism: A Dark History of Constitutional Conventions,” which makes his case on why New Yorkers should vote “no” in 2017 on whether to hold a convention to potentially change the state’s constitution. (By law the state must vote at least every 20 years on holding such a convention. It was voted down in 1997, the last vote.)
At the State Capitol to appear on a radio show Thursday to promote the book, the former Nassau County representative gave a look at the state’s history of constitutional conventions. Just one, back in 1938 amid the Great Depression, produced a set of proposals that the public voted to adopt. The last one held, in 1967 — when Kremer was a state assemblyman — was driven by then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and wound up combining a number of proposals into one statewide referendum that was so jumbled that both the Democratic and Republican parties opposed it.
It cost the public $47 million — $336 million in today’s money, Kremer said. He said most conventions were marked by “cronyism, waste, runaway costs and questionable ethics.” He said a convention would be remarkably similar to regular legislative sessions, dominated by elected leaders already in power and influenced by special-interest groups.
Kremer, who is now a lobbyist, served 23 years in the state Assembly, ending in 1988.
Advocates say if voters agree to hold a constitutional convention, delegates could address long-stalled ethics reforms, while taking on other major issues such as term limits, redistricting, environmental protection, education, public financing of campaigns and same-day voter registration.
A constitutional convention “is the only viable path to real lasting reform for New York state government,” Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist at the State University of New York at New Paltz and a longtime state politics observer, has said. “Political and personal self-interest of those in power in Albany has blocked serious reform for decades.”