ALBANY—Two good-government advocacy groups and Assemblyman Michael Gianaris have an idea to solve the leadership struggle in the State Senate: have David Paterson appoint a lieutenant governor.
Standing before a blown-up chart showing an excerpt from the Public Officers law, which contains a "catch-all" provision for filling vacancies, Gianaris, a former counsel in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's office, noted that "we came upon something that apparently was right under our noses."
The law says the governor "shall" appoint someone to fill a post that becomes vacant, like the lieutenant governorship did last year. "Other than some Albany inertia, which we've all grown accustomed to, there's no reason this hasn't been looked at," Gianaris said.
According to him, as well as Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union and Susan Lerner of Common Cause, this matter was first brought to the attention of Paterson's counsel Peter Kiernan several weeks ago. They did not speculate as to why he has not acted or spoken about it. They said any lawsuit–under their interpretation, Paterson would be in violation of the law–might be "premature."
Spokesmen for Paterson watched a press conference in a Capitol hallway, but did not immediately comment on the idea.
The solution, by the admission of its proponents, is imperfect. Gianaris and the advocates said there would no doubt be legal challenges not only to Paterson's appointment, but to any tie-breaking votes the lieutenant governor cast over the chamber. It would, they say, give the chamber a presiding officer. Lerner was asked about what effect, if any, this would have.
"As opposed to a complete impasse, where there doesn't seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel," she said.
Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran offered the following comment: "Any idea that will help end the gridlock and get the senate back to passing critical legislation deserves serious attention and consideration."
UPDATE: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo called the proposal "not constitutional."
In a statement (below), David Paterson said he was reviewing it.
"I want to thank Assemblyman Gianaris, Citizens Union and Common Cause for working to try to find a way to break the impasse in the Senate. The issues they raised in their letter have been under review for some time by my Counsel. I look forward to working with these groups and others to find a way to end the stalemate and get the Senate back to work."