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Three Queens Democrats who joined in the failed state Assembly coup attempt to oust Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) from his post have formed a caucus to make the Assembly leadership listen to the members and change the way it does business.
Assemblywomen Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and Nettie Mayersohn (D-Fresh Meadows) and Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill) were three of the 63 legislators who had supported Michael Bragman (D-North Syracuse) in his unsuccessful effort to overthrow Silver last month.
The three have become part of the 20-member Democratic Majority Reform Caucus.
"The goals of the Democratic Majority Reform Caucus are in no way revolutionary or radical in nature, but I truly believe they are necessary and will have a profound impact on how the Assembly operates," said Clark.
In particular, the caucus is seeking greater access to Silver and to have their voices heard. The group, which has maintained that it was being excluded from the decision-making process in the Assembly, said it wants to be treated professionally by Silver's staff.
The caucus is pressing to have the Democrats' legislative priorities established only after rank-and-file members of the Assembly have been given a chance to express their views.
"The principles we have summarized not only encompass the priorities of the reform caucus, but reflect input we have received from a significant portion of the Democratic Conference as a whole," Clark said in a statement.
The Queens Village assemblywoman said she wants to see change take place, allowing for a more representative government that will permit the legislative body to participate and have input on Assembly votes.
"The institutional decisions made here such as health care, building schools or the bailing out of Nassau County need to be discussed," Clark said. "The decisions made are not something only a few should be participating in. You need broader participation."
Clark said she had not been the target of any reprisals for supporting the coup attempt, but she knew Silver would punish Bragman.
"I am outraged that a week before the end of session the speaker would make Bragman move his office," she said. "I expected him to be removed as majority leader, but to take staff jobs away is absolutely wrong. The staff had nothing to do with the revolt."
Staff members are critical for Assembly members to be able to represent their constituency, she said.
Mayersohn said she has not felt any repercussions from the bid to remove Silver and the caucus's principles were not about supporting Bragman over Silver. She said the democratic process in Albany was outdated and "authoritarian."
She said the process is not democratic and that Assembly members are not asked for input when it comes to voting for legislation. For example, Mayersohn said there was no debate on the repeal of the New York City commuter tax and she learned about the repeal from a reporter.
The Fresh Meadows assemblywoman questioned how the Assembly can reach an agreement without debating the bill and said she wanted access to the policy decisions made by the speaker.
"The members' vote is very much directed," she said. "Assembly members voted against the tax because the speaker wanted the legislation. There is concern for not offending what the speaker has set up for his agenda."
Mayersohn said the principles drawn up by the reform caucus are an attempt to give the membership more input into the legislative process. She said since the anti-Silver uprising and the release of the principles there have been some positive changes, but she is concerned that unless some rules are "set in stone" the Assembly could revert back to the way it was.
"Until we make the principles part of the Assembly, the ideas we have set forth can be illusive," she said. "We want to make them permanent," she said.
Change is necessary, she said, because the political lobbyists are too involved in the decision-making process and the speaker decides staff allocation.
Seminero said many Assembly members are dissatisfied with what has been going on in Albany, especially the lack of participation and influence the members have on legislative votes. He said many times the members vote without knowing what they are voting on.
"The assembly members all voted on the commuter tax because people told them to," he said. "Whatever Shelly (Silver) tells them to do, they do."
The caucus members have written and distributed a Statement of Principles they want to see implemented to ensure that the Democratic Conference in the Assembly becomes more "inclusive and participatory."
In a letter to Silver, the caucus asked him to provide the members of the Democratic majority with the amount of "discretionary funds" allocated in the budget and the amount available to each assembly member.
"As you well know, if this information is not provided to members, you are limiting our ability to fully participate in the process and the public will not have the opportunity to understand how the budget funds will be spent," the caucus said.
©2000 Community Newspaper Group
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