Latimer Pushes Bill on Replacement for Lt. Governor
by Judy Silberstein
(March 13, 2008) Among the startling details that came to light this week - along with allegations that Governor Eliot Spitzer was a client of a prostitution ring - is that the New York State constitution has no provision for permanently replacing its lieutenant governor. When Mr. Spitzer resigns on Monday, March 17, as he announced he will do, he will be handing over the job for the remainder of his term to Lt. Governor David A. Paterson. That will leave a vacancy in the lieutenant governor spot until the next election in 2010.
Ironically, the constitution calls on the “temporary president of the Senate” (the Senate majority leader) to fill the vacancy by performing “all the duties of the lieutenant governor.” That means Senator Joseph Bruno, a Republican who has battled with Mr. Spitzer for the past 15 months, will be acting as lieutenant governor until the end of 2010. The lieutenant governor’s duties are, primarily: serving as president of the Senate – including casting a vote in case of a tie; and serving as acting-governor when the governor is unable to perform his duties.
NY Assemblyman George Latimer, who represents Larchmont, Mamaroneck and the other communities in the 91st district, had introduced legislation last year that would have allowed the governor to name a permanent replacement, subject to approval of the Senate, but the bill never got traction. On Monday, Mr. Latimer re-introduced the bill, hoping the recent revelations would spur action in Albany. (For further details, see: Lt. Governor Legislation.)
“The current situation is clearly a tragedy for the family involved – and a cross road moment for the state government,” said Mr. Latimer. On Monday, as the New York Times was reporting that Mr. Spitzer was implicated in a federal inquiry into a prostitution ring, the governor appeared at a short press conference and apologized to his family and the public for unspecified conduct “that violates my obligation to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong.” Later reports indicated multiple assignations with prostitutes from the ring and described payments that were illegally made to conceal their purpose and source. On Wednesday, he made another brief appearance, taking responsibility for his conduct, still unspecified.
“Today is a sad day for New York,” said Mr. Latimer on Wednesday. He also expressed his complete confidence in David Paterson as governor. Earlier, however, Mr. Latimer had noted that “we’re at the point when we need to finalize the state budget, covering many controversial issues” and “we’ll be without a lieutenant governor for the next three years. That is what my proposal is designed to fix.”
Of course, even if it succeeds, the bill would come too late to fix the current situation. Mr. Latimer explained that his legislation calls for an amendment to the NY State constitution. That requires affirmation by the Legislature in two successive years and approval from New York’s voters in a referendum. At the earliest, the provisions would not be in place until November of 2009.
And the bill has many other hurdles to overcome, Mr. Latimer
The idea for the amendment first surfaced last year when Mr. Latimer and others were researching constitutional provisions for replacing NY State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who resigned at the end of 2006 after having plead guilty to using state employees as personal aides for his wife. The research brought to light the lack of provisions for permanently replacing the lieutenant governor, which the bill sought to remedy. However, with so much else going on in Albany, “the bill wasn’t given any attention,” said Mr. Latimer.
Once the sun was shining (or at least a replacement for the comptroller was installed) few legislators wanted to think about the potentially leaky roof.
Mr. Latimer recognizes that there are hurdles other than inertia. A vacancy in the lieutenant governor spot advantages the Republicans. Under current rules, the next in line for succession to the governorship, should anything happen to Mr. Paterson, is Mr. Bruno. Even when Mr. Paterson leaves the state, Mr. Bruno is left in charge. So, when Mr. Paterson, one of New York’s “super delegates,” flies to Colorado in August for the Democratic Party’s National Convention, Mr. Bruno will be acting governor for the duration.
Furthermore, without a lieutenant governor, Republicans will continue to hold control over party-line votes in the Senate, unless the Democrats take two more seats to win an absolute majority, something Mr. Spitzer had been working hard to achieve. In past years, when Senate Republicans held a comfortable lead over the Democrats, the lieutenant governor’s tie-breaking power would not have counted for much. But now, it would take only one more Democrat elected to the Senate to produce party-line votes of 31-31. Had Mr. Paterson remained as lieutenant governor, he would have been able to cast the tie-breaking vote, presumably in support of the Democrats’ position.
Whether or not Mr. Bruno will get to break a tie is in question. Wouldn’t that give him two votes – one as a senator and another as the tie-breaker?
Alfred B. DelBello, whose resignation from the lieutenant governorship in 1984 left a two-year vacancy during the Cuomo administration, raised the issue when contacted for comment by the Gazette.
Mr. DelBello takes the position that Mr. Bruno should only get one vote, but he conceded that “Mr. Bruno’s staff may argue the other way.” Given the current composition of the Senate, “this may happen, and has not been addressed in the press,” said Mr. DelBello.
Mr. Bruno’s spokesperson, Scot Reif, said, “We believe that the constitution is clear on this” and that the acting lieutenant governor would be able to break a tie on procedural matters, but not on legislative ones. As an example of a procedural matter, he offered the case of a tie on who controls the Senate chairmanships –critically important positions.
For now, Republicans may favor retaining this particular
“leak in the roof.” But Mr. Latimer’s hope is to get
some attention focused on the issue while he can.
The Proposed Bill: