To the editor,
A recent letter to the editor, submitted by former Oswego Mayor Terrence Hammill, attempts dismiss a legislative proposal that would limit executive power and grant greater authority to localities in future states of emergency.
The coronavirus pandemic was an unprecedented situation that no one expected. Early in the process, the Legislature granted Gov. Andrew Cuomo expanded authorities to manage the crisis. History will judge the state’s response and Gov. Cuomo’s performance. There are those, like Mr. Hammill, who applaud the governor’s efforts and decisions over the course of the outbreak.
There are others who may question why California has twice as many people as New York, but nearly 20,000 fewer deaths; why nursing homes were forced to accept COVID-positive patients, contributing to 6,000 lives lost in those facilities; or why businesses were unilaterally shut down without the Department of Labor being prepared to handle the flood of unemployment claims.
Those debates can be had at another time.
The fact is, representative democracy is, by definition, a team effort. Each branch of government at every level has a critical role to play. It has always been my position that local governments and their representatives should be intimately involved in the creation and application of laws by which they are governed.
Regardless of personalities or political parties, New York is not supposed to be governed unilaterally by one individual. That is the basic principle at the core of our proposed legislation.
Mr. Hammill is absolutely correct when he points out the need for executive authority during a crisis. Expedited decisions and actions are critical to address emergency situations. Gov. Cuomo took necessary steps during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 to contain the spread of the virus.
As the executive, he has that right and responsibility.
But, he also has the responsibility to honor a political system that demands separation of power, accountability, and cooperation. The authorities granted in March were always intended to be temporary in nature. Now in mid-June, they are completely unnecessary.
Fortunately, New York State is well beyond the days where operating under emergency oneperson rule was essential. Residents in some areas of the state still question why it was necessary in the first place. COVID rates are dropping. Regions are preparing to enter Phase 3 of reopening. Businesses are coming back, more services and professionals are operating, and we hope our economy will experience a much-needed boost.
After three months and 40 executive orders, it’s time we get our lives back. At this point it’s alarming and unnecessary that one man is making determinations for 19.5 million New Yorkers, some of which include:
when people can participate in religious services;
whether or not a high-school senior can have a graduation;
what procedures hospitals are allowed to provide;
when, where, and how people are able to exercise their right to vote; and
how many people can sit in a golf cart or go to a beach.
In the halls of the state Legislature, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have had their fill of unilateral authority – although many won’t say so in public.
Reining in the governor’s power is not unrealistic – it is inevitable. The only unknown is when it will happen. The time it takes to restore New York State to representative democracy will be determined by how quickly members of the Legislature find the courage to do so.
I say that time is now.
Will Barclay is the Minority Leader of the New York State Assembly and represents the 120th Assembly District.