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Albany magic

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There is nothing as simple as a straight line in Albany. The state Legislature finally managed to approve a renewal of mayoral control to keep Bill de Blasio running the city’s schools after wandering way off course for more than a day.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called an extraordinary one-day session of the Legislature last week after both the Assembly and the Senate deadlocked June 21 on letting the mayor determine the future of the nation’s largest school system. At issue were charter schools, with de Blasio opposing an increase in the number and the Senate GOP leaders pushing for fewer restrictions on the non-public institutions.

Clearly dismayed at the impasse, Cuomo told a news conference “they’ve now put in a corrupt management system” and nine days later ordered lawmakers back to Albany with mayoral control set to expire June 30.

The governor was determined the session would focus only on mayoral control, but the legislators — and ultimately Cuomo himself, as it turned out — had other objectives in mind.

By early evening June 28, one Queens lawmaker said mayoral control had not even come up, but there were discussions about water and the Department of Environmental Protection. Assembly members had taken attendance and gaveled a recess, he said, but that was about it for action in the lower house — at least publicly. The Senate had adjourned for the day. But as the clock ticked toward midnight, another Albany miracle emerged. The Democratic-controlled Assembly cobbled together an omnibus bill that gave de Blasio a two-year extension of mayoral control and included a number of perks for upstate sought by Senate Republicans.

On Day Two, the Senate high-fived the measure, which became known as “The Big Ugly” for lumping together special interests, side deals and pet projects in a 72-page bundle. Among the missing, no movement on ethics reforms, even though the majority leaders in both houses were convicted on corruption charges in the last two years.

De Blasio, who had struggled to win one-year approval during his first three years in office, was the clear benefactor. And he owed this reprieve to none other than his nemesis, Cuomo, who had championed the two-year extension.

Such are the mysteries of Albany politics, which works in strange ways. Not all the results of the legislative horse-trading have been revealed yet, but we do know lawmakers extended rent control for New York City and provided more financial help for Lake Ontario flood victims.

And a delighted Cuomo walked away with his own plum: The Tappan Zee Bridge will be renamed for his father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Posted 12:00 am, July 7, 2017
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