Good News For A Change: New York – Winning!

The closing weeks of June brought no shortage of welcome news from Albany and City Hall. We would be remiss if we did not take note of the actions—and, yes, the courage—of some of New York’s top political players, union leaders and policy advocates.

Passage of gay marriage returned the state to its historic (but lately all-but-forgotten) role as a leader in progressive social and cultural change. The rest of the nation, indeed the rest of the world, took notice as Albany’s often-derided legislators publicly wrestled with their consciences and, in the case of several, defied their constituents in service to equality and civil rights. It was a rare moment of dignity amid the usual gritty deal-making of state politics.

Credit goes to Governor Andrew Cuomo for appealing to the better angels of his legislative colleagues, to the advocates in both public and private life who saw marriage equality as a civil-rights issue for the 21st century, and to those legislators, especially in the State Senate’s Republican caucus, who placed justice ahead of politics. Some careers may end as a result of that vote, but history will remember fondly their votes and their courage.

If gay marriage were the only good news out of Albany this spring, it would still have been remembered as an historic legislative session. But there was another remarkable achievement that required no shortage of will and courage on the part of several key players—the welcome agreement between Mr. Cuomo and the state’s largest public employees union on wage and benefits concessions. Members of the Civil Service Employees Association will see their wages frozen for three years and will pay more for their generous health benefits. As a result, the state will save some $1.6 billion over the next five years.

Mr. Cuomo again deserves credit for winning the union’s support without the confrontational rhetoric that has marked labor-management relations in New Jersey and Connecticut. But Mr. Cuomo obviously could not have negotiated these necessary deals alone. C.S.E.A. president Danny Donohue understood that the state had little choice but to ask for some sacrifices from its workers. “These are not ordinary times,” Mr. Donohue said.

Not many labor leaders have had the courage to recognize just how dire things really are. Mr. Donohue chose cooperation rather than confrontation. With any luck, his colleagues in another large union, the Public Employees Federation, will follow suit, because times are not going to get much better any time soon.

Closer to home, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and her Council colleagues came to agreement on a new budget that avoided the closure of 20 fire companies, the lay-off of some 4,000 teachers and other potentially painful cuts in services and personnel. As was the case in Albany, the budget hearings and negotiations were marked by a spirit of urgency and cooperation, rather than pointless pandering.

While New Yorkers have reason to take some measure of pride (for a change) in local politics, nobody should believe that the state and city have clear sailing ahead. A number of Governor Cuomo’s campaign promises remain unrealized, including pension reform and the creation of a commission to devise a truly fair redistricting process in anticipation of next year’s congressional and legislative elections. Welcome though the achievements in Albany and City Hall are, they should be thought of as just the beginning of a new era of reform in New York.

For the moment, however, New Yorkers need only take a look at Hartford and Trenton to see how things might have been. Reason to give thanks, for sure. Good News For A Change: New York – Winning!