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Photo by Michael Shain
Constitutional convention opponents raised around $3 million to prevent a proposed state revision from going through.
By Naeisha Rose

Opponents of a Constitutional Constitution reigned victorious on Election Night in killing Proposal 1, a referendum to change New York State’s charter, by spending more than $3 million on the Vote NO campaign. The defeat drew the ire of proponents who wanted a revised document.

Financial disclosures from the state board of Elections show Vote NO challengers raised $3.16 million to stop what was genially called a Con Con and spent $1.93 million in literature and television advertisements to prevent a possible state convention.

In comparison, supporters from the Committee for a Constitutional Convention and NY People’s Convention collected $547,000 and spent $494,000 on posters and bumpers stickers, nearly six times less than what their rivals disbursed, according to the BOE.

New Yorkers Against Corruption, the bipartisan coalition that led the way in the Vote NO movement, brought together Democratic and GOP legislators, abortion and anti-abortion advocates, and unions consisting of police officers and teachers alike.

NYAC members feared lobbyists who wanted a Con Con because they could try to wipe out workers’ rights, along with their benefits and pensions guaranteed under the current Constitution and that it could cost an estimated $300 million, according to their website. They looked no further than other states like Wisconsin, Arizona and Kansas, which became Right-to-Work bastions, which have weakened unions.

The United Federation of Teachers was one of the backers behind a Vote NO initiative.

“This is a win for workers and people saying, ‘Enough is enough — we’re not going to let big money get involved here,’” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the UFT. “It was workers coming together, working really hard, communicating with each other and communicating with the public to make New York understand what a constitutional convention is.”

The New York State United Teacher’s President Andy Pallotta agreed.

“New York saw what happens when labor organizes, mobilizes and acts as one to protect working people,” Pallotta said. “NYSUT and other unions educated voters and turned them out in force to defeat what would have been a taxpayer-funded boondoggle that put the rights we all enjoy at risk.”

The promoters for a Constitutional Convention, like the Committee for a Constitutional Convention and NY People’s Convention hoped that a modernized state charter would end gerrymandering, improve New York’s education system, strengthen women’s rights, fix immigration policies, and advance the legal system.

The lost opportunity to fast track legislation that could have done all those things through a convention only galvanized the leaders who wanted a Con Con to hold the 213 Senate and Assembly members, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo to task as they vie for re-election in 2018.

“The defeat of the Constitutional Convention is a triumph for all of the enemies of reform in Albany: Andrew Cuomo, the political bosses in the state Legislature, and the lobbyists and special interests who thrive in New York’s pay for play culture of corruption,” said Bill Samuels, the founder of NY People’s Convention.

“The incredible coalition that came together around the YES vote will continue to challenge the dysfunctional status quo in Albany and fight for the people of New York. As for the groups that spent so many millions of dollars pushing for a NO vote, the burden now falls upon them to prove that they can actually bring about positive change in Albany through the legislative process and to demonstrate the capacity not just to scare New Yorkers, but to empower them,” Samuels said.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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