Hon. Eric Schneiderman
New York State Senate
313 Legislative Office Building
Albany, New York 12247
Dear Senator Schneiderman:
I was quite impressed with your recent essay on transformational politics in The Nation. It struck a chord with me because last year’s change in our gubernatorial administration had raised my hopes that we would see some of it. I’m afraid that has not happened to date.
I went to work for the legislature in 1984 and sat that year through my first set of hearings on Governor Cuomo’s executive budget. My most vivid memory was of Assemblyman Arthur Eve and the late Tom Coughlin of the Department of Correctional Services sparring over the beginnings of our long and depressing prison building jag. For twelve years, Cuomo’s version of transactional politics had us building prisons and locking up black people. Then came George Pataki, who gave us twelve years of keeping those prisons full and ensuring that a term in prison was as onerous and pointless an experience as possible. For a quarter of a century now, this has been our response to society’s drug problem--an exercise in the most cynical brand of transactional politics that has done nothing but damage.
When I apply your concept of transformational progressivism to my field of public security, I believe we can do better. I make my top priorities to prevent crime and, failing that as we inevitably do, to undo as well as we can the damage it does. I have had a most singular experience that demonstrated the power of that kind of thinking.
In 1998, I was approached by a former State Trooper who had been shot and left paralyzed while on duty one night in September 1973. He asked me if I thought we could get the legislature to pass a bill that would fund research toward a cure for paralysis. I thought that was an extraordinary response to the terrible injury that had been done to him and his family. More than that, the assemblyman who agreed to sponsor our bill represented a district in Brooklyn in which paralysis as the result of gunshot wounds was not uncommon. The bill was a success. In the decade since, more than $50 million has been invested in advanced neurological research. When have we ever done anything that big and positive in response a crime?
Governor Cuomo famously said: “We campaign in poetry but govern in prose.” I’ve always been appalled by that statement. If I understand the implications of your transformational politics, it has a lot in common with poetry and could well lead to the solutions of many problems that our infamously dysfunctional Albany politics would otherwise continue as long as a billable hour can possibly be milked out of them.
Thank you for writing this inspiring article.
Mar 5 2008 - 6:43pm