It’s a new election season but a familiar story for the New York State Assembly: Democrats enjoy a huge majority and will continue to hold that edge when the ballots are counted.
What’s changed is that the Senate is now in Democratic hands, too. In the last session, that meant progressive measures blocked for years by a Republican-controlled Senate were finally passed by both houses. That largely was good. State residents had waited far too long for things like voting reforms and climate change legislation.
But sometimes those changes went too far. Bail reforms, for example, need some tinkering to hold without bail some defendants who could pose a danger to the community.
Such safety issues are a common concern among many Long Island lawmakers, Democratic and Republican. The same is true of school aid, slowing the rise of property taxes, and concerns about being able to test for driving while impaired as part of any move to legalize marijuana.
Democrat Steven Englebright, a 28-year Assembly veteran who often works with Republicans on legislation, told Newsday’s editorial board during an endorsement interview that "it’s a useful thing to have a regional caucus." But when he pitched one early in his tenure, then-Speaker Sheldon Silver, a fellow Democrat, was "menacing in his response," Englebright said, and held up two dozen of Englebright’s bills. The caucus fell apart.
Now, a growing number of Assembly candidates are reviving the idea. Laura Jens-Smith, a Democrat running for the open seat in the 2nd District, is pushing the formation of a suburban caucus with bipartisan legislators from Long Island and Westchester and Putnam counties. Gina Sillitti, a Democrat competing for the 16th District’s open seat, said, "It’s a Democratic caucus and there needs to be people fighting for Long Island whose issues might not always jive with city issues."
Republican Ed Ra, of Nassau’s 19th District, said he often talks to city Democrats about proposed legislation. His message: "This really could be better, this is how this really impacts Long Island." And Englebright’s Republican opponent, Michael S. Ross, calls the idea of a suburban caucus across party lines a "brilliant" idea, adding, "Why wouldn’t we want to work together?" And since much of the action takes place in committees, more moderate Democrats need the help of Republicans to make sure the interests of everyone in the state are included.
Long Island needs that. When you make your selection this year for your Assembly representative, consider which candidate is willing, when necessary, to buck leadership to stand strong for Long Island. Red or blue, we share one island. Our representatives need to act like they understand that, too.
— The editorial board