Progressive Agenda ‘On Hold’

ALBANY—Reproductive rights? Tenant protections? Greater access to health care? Forget about it this year, and all bets are off for next year.

"For the broader progressive agenda, insofar as the Democrats have lost their majority, it's on hold," said Gabriel Sayegh, a project director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

His group's major legislative priority–loosening drug laws to allow more non-violent offenders to attend drug treatment programs instead of prison–already passed in this year's budget. Sayegh considers himself lucky. His things passed. Here are the sentiments of someone whose priorities didn't.

"Two corrupt politicians made a deal with the real estate lobby and their cronies in the Republican Senate conference to hijack the tenant agenda just as we were on the verge of major legislative reform to strengthen the rent laws and preserve affordable housing," said Mike McKee, treasurer of the Tenants PAC, in a reserved performance (considering he spent his morning shouting "voters, not donors" outside the office of Pedro Esada Jr., a turncoat Democrat involved in the coup).

I asked him about the new laws which would reform which bills made it to the floor.

"Oh bullshit," he replied. "They were so interested in reform the 40 years they ran things. For Pedro Espada to talk about reform is a very bad joke."

Regardless of whether a coalition of Republicans and renegade Democrats does take control of the chamber, the consensus is that utter confusion will reign for the next few weeks, and major deals won't get done.

Many advocates and lobbyists I've spoken to said that a few things will get done, but they will be very different from the things at the top of the list for liberals.

"The voters proactively voted certain people out and certain people in, and we've been watching that around the county and in New York State for the last two or three election cycles," the leader of one progressive advocacy organization explained, exasperated. "New Yorkers have been making steady progress in who they're voting in. The bills that we've been seeing are supported in the polls by a majority of New York voters, and those bills won't come to the floor. If they do, it's with a completely different interest."

This puts things on hold until 2010, when the electoral math can be changed to (possibly) create a wider majority.

"Elections matter," said Mark Hannay, the director of the Metro New York Healthcare for All Campaign, who attended a demonstration in the Capitol today, alongside McKee, to protest the Republican takeover. "Everything's at least in a holding pattern for the short term, and we'll see how it plays out over the longer term in the next eighteen months, and how the elections solidify things."