Local Pols Weigh in On Con Con


When New Yorkers hit the voting booths on Tuesday, November 6, on the back of the ballot, they’ll come across a question asking if the state of New York should hold a constitutional convention (Con Con). Voters will vote yes or no to a meeting of delegates to discuss and propose changes to the state constitution. The convention could lead to discussions on positive changes like government ethics reform, but also open a Pandora’s box to negative consequences like attacking pension benefits. As Election Day approaches, the Con Con conundrum has been a hot button topic, so we reached out to local politicians to get their thoughts.

How do your local elected officials feel about Con Con? A majority have mixed thoughts, but ultimately, are against. Yet some have expressed support. On October 6, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R), took to social media to expand on his reasoning for his support of Con Con. "New York desperately needs ethics and campaign finance reforms, term limits for state elected officials and a fair and equitable tax system that doesn't hurt the middle class. A Constitutional Convention would be uniquely situated to address these issues that Albany and the special interest groups have repeatedly blocked,” Ulrich said. “I support Con Con with one caveat - that it does not interfere with collective bargaining agreements or public pensions. I strongly oppose any effort which would take away the retirement security of our cops, fire fighters, teachers and other municipal workers."

He continued, further explaining his stance saying, “People should be free to vote their conscience on this issue. Some have argued a Con Con would be a Pandora's box, while others believe it is the only way to address difficult issues the state has largely ignored. I have offered my personal views on this ballot question when asked by my constituents, but I honestly believe both points of view are legitimate and valid.” In the responses, some agreed with the councilman, yet a majority hit back at Ulrich, with many feeling uneasy about the threat to pensions if Con Con were to take place.

On Election Day, Ulrich will be up for re-election for City Council. He’ll be running against Democrat Mike Scala, who has a different take on Con Con. “One important difference between myself and the opponent is he supports the convention. I oppose it, because I want to make sure our pensions, collective bargaining and education rights are not compromised,” Scala wrote on Facebook.

Rockaway’s local state senators also weighed in on the issue, saying that they’re against Con Con. “The short answer is, I’m against it,” District 15 State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D), said in a phone call to The Rockaway Times. His reasoning? It would cost taxpayers too much for an unpredictable outcome. “Once you go into a convention, it opens a Pandora’s box, given that there’s no firm agenda. But those who are for it don’t talk about the cost of which will be on the taxpayers. It could potentially cost around $50 million, and even that number is tough to determine because there’s no agenda and no set time frame for how long it would last, and in the end, there’s no guarantee that anything will be approved by voters. Risking $50 million on a possibility makes it less appealing.  If there was a guarantee that positive things like ethics reform would come out of it, it would be a different story, but risking $50 million with no result is problematic for me. Certainly we can do a lot with $50 million for the state budget,” Addabbo said. “Protection of pensions and the work environment are other issues, but I’m more concerned about the cost with no guarantee of a positive result.”

Addabbo added that a convention is unnecessary to make certain changes. “In November, we’re also voting on a referendum, which would ultimately be a change in the constitution, without a convention,” Addabbo said, referring to another ballot item that would allow judges to revoke the state pension of a public officer convicted of a felony related to officer’s duties. “That is a state constitutional change that proves that we can change the constitution without a costly convention. History tells us that most constitutional conventions wind up without approved changes. In the last five that were held, people voted against the changes five times.”

James Sanders Jr. (D), state senator for District 10, is also against Con Con, saying that the timing isn’t right for it. “On one hand, it’s good, on occasion to look at any part of government and see how we’re functioning and look to see if there’s anything we can do better. Like any vehicle, you need an overhaul every once in a while and the constitutional convention could serve an as overhaul. However, I am against the convention at this time,” Sanders said. “I’m worried about the political atmosphere that we find ourselves in, in this day and age on Trump, where strange things are happening. Con Con may be able to put up some bills or ideas of moving ethics reform, which I, and many believe in, but it could also lead to the gutting of people’s pensions and getting rid of unions and a lot of things that have helped America move forward. So, at this moment, I’d be against it, only because of the political environment. What we can lose is far more than what we can gain under these conditions, and for the people of New York, I don’t think this is a good time to do it.”

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D) also spoke out against Con Con. "The working men and women of New York State, represented by labor unions and activists, have been crystal-clear: a Constitutional Convention would leave crucial worker protections vulnerable.  The NYS Constitution, while not a perfect document by any means, gives collective bargaining and other labor rights a permanent seat at the table, which is not something any of us can afford to lose," she said. “There are major reforms that can - and should - be achieved in New York State legislatively.  I'm proud to champion ethics and transparency in Albany as part of the Assembly Majority.  But I am, and will remain, opposed to a Constitutional Convention in New York State."

We reached out to other local politicians for their take, such as Councilman Donovan Richards and Congressman Gregory Meeks. We did not receive a response from Richards by press time, but Meeks simply responded saying that he was against the idea, without further explanation.

If voters vote yes for Con Con, the next step would be to elect delegates in a vote that would take place on next year’s Election Day, November 7, 2018. The convention would then meet in Albany on April 2, 2019.  During the convention, the delegates would be allowed to draft a new constitution or amendments to the existing constitution. The changes would then be put up to a vote on November 5, 2019. No changes would occur unless voted for. Approved changes would take effect on January 1, 2020.

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