One of the advantages incumbents in the state Assembly have over their challengers is a printing budget that enables them to mail out quarterly newsletters to their constituents, which at least one good government group says is in need of reform.
“This is a persistent problem that the incumbent newsletters that go out ... are all about promoting the individual [and] much less about constituent service,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY.
While rules prohibit the newsletters, which update constituents about bills their legislators have passed and feature photos of the lawmakers at community events or important bill signings, from being distributed less than 30 days before an election, Lerner said the literature is more about self-aggrandizement and evoking “warm and fuzzy feelings” than providing constituent service.
“It’s bad to begin with. It gets worse closer to the election,” she said. “The better letters are heavy on constituent information.”
Lerner called for “clear guidelines and a culture that draws the line” on what is appropriate for the newsletters, although she said it is difficult to come up with a standard.
“I don’t have a compass on where that line is,” she said.
Assembly candidate and Glen Oaks Village President Bob Friedrich, who is challenging Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) in September’s Democratic primary, issued a news release calling Weprin’s use of the newsletter “sleazy politics.”
“Given a state budget ‘balanced’ with smoke and mirrors and a ballooning deficit, this is just the latest example of the arrogance of power and the dysfunctional entitlement mentality that permeates Albany by career politicians,” Friedrich said.
Weprin defended his use of the printing privilege, saying he would have been accused of being unresponsive to his constituents if he had not updated them about what he was doing on their behalf in Albany.
He noted that the newsletter makes no mention that he is an Assembly candidate, his political affiliation or the date of the Democratic primary.
Weprin said Friedrich’s attack was hypocritical because he is being investigated by the city Campaign Finance Board for using Glen Oaks Village resources for his campaign last year against City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens).
The board has yet to make a determination in that case.
Weprin is not the only legislator to make use of the newsletters — most of the borough’s Assembly delegation issued newsletters this summer.
Mark Weprin, who was in the Assembly when he ran for Council last year, chose not to put out the newsletter and two other current Assembly members from the borough — Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) and Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) — refused to do so this year.
Carrozza is not running for re-election and Gianaris is also not a candidate for re-election, instead deciding to run for the state Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria).
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz