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Con-con at bat
The most contentious item on the November ballot could very well be the question of whether New York should hold a constitutional convention in 2019. A convention provides an opportunity to revise the state constitution, and that prospect has its risks and rewards.
Voters must be asked every 20 years, and in 1997 they said no.
A con-con, as it’s known in political circles, is not on the average voter’s radar yet. But the inside players are already gearing up. The Long Island Association is hosting a con-con panel on June 6 with four speakers, two from each side, including attorney Evan Davis, manager of the Committee for a Constitutional Convention, and lobbyist and former state Assemb. Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, whose stance is reflected in the title of his recent paperback, “Patronage, Waste and Favoritism: A Dark History of Constitutional Conventions.”
LIA president Kevin Law, whose organization supports a convention, said the goal is “to educate people; there are some pros and some cons.” He said the LIA’s board will decide at its meeting later in June how engaged to get on the issue.
Some good-government types support a convention to achieve ethics and voting reforms the State Legislature has been unwilling to make. Labor unions, especially teachers unions, are against a convention because they say it could result in changes in pensions and the right to unionize.
In the face of battling constituencies, watch to see what position state lawmakers take, if they take one at all. As Law said, “Some elected officials are trying to pretend it’s not going to be on the ballot this year.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin has been painted by his political opponents as too beholden to both President Donald Trump and the hyperconservative Republican leaders who run the GOP in Washington.
It might be an effective attack, because the House leadership and the top party donors support policies most popular in Southern and Western states that bear little resemblance to Suffolk County. Those attacks increased in February after Zeldin canceled an April 18 open meeting with constituents at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton Village.
But Zeldin is working to change the perception that he treats the Beltway as his district. The first big step was holding three town halls in the district on April 23, events at which Zeldin was sometimes forced to tangle with jeering political opponents.
But just as notable as holding the meetings were several points he made that were far more in line with his district than his party. At his first meeting that day, in Riverhead, Zeldin voiced support for:
- l President Donald Trump releasing his tax returns, something Trump has refused to do.
- l Increasing funding to the Environmental Protection Agency, rather than holding it steady or, as Trump outlined and some House leaders endorsed, cutting it by 30 percent.
- l Indexing Social Security benefits and Medicare reimbursements to a region’s cost of living, a move that would greatly benefit Long Islanders but would be anathema to the cheap-state Republicans who dominate the caucus.
Zeldin, who won his race by 16 points in 2016, would probably argue that Washington’s GOP leaders and his district’s voters aren’t really as far apart as those town hall protesters made it appear.
Dennis Dunne Sr., an original member of the Nassau County Legislature elected in 1995, is not seeking another term. Instead, he will run for the Hempstead Town Board. Gary Hudes is stepping down from the board in June.
Dunne, who lives in Levittown, is well known for not missing community events and as a solid vote-getter. So his switch of venues indicates the Nassau GOP is not taking any chances with its power base in Hempstead. It’s also a sign of the chaos within the legislature’s GOP caucus. Dunne will see an extra few thousand dollars in his paycheck, since the town pays more than the county.
As The Point noted last month, Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello was considering running one of his relatives for the Hempstead job, but the town is already getting heat for its bottomless feast of nepotism. Even though the board’s 6th District is heavily Republican, this is a year when Democrats are expected to make cronyism and corruption their top issues.