At last night’s Town Hall meeting at Brooklyn Law School, State Senator Daniel Squadron was forceful and blunt in describing what he sees as wrong with the political culture in Albany. The discussion started with a question from an attendee who wanted to know why the state couldn’t find a way to provide adequate funding for libraries. Squadron said he was part of a group of legislators who advocate for libraries, but that the principal driver of action in Albany is the interests of major campaign contributors. He noted that state law allows “huge” contributions to candidates, which he characterized as “insanity.” The City, he said, has a much better system, particularly because it matches individual contributions sixfold, thereby amplifying the impact of small contributors. Libraries don’t have a well-funded lobby, but this doesn’t necessarily doom their cause.
Squadron agreed that libraries need public funding, and that they are presently underfunded. He said citizen action is the only way to overcome this problem. If enough people put consistent pressure on politicians, action will be taken. If one hundred people keep up pressure on an issue, it will be seen as a problem in Albany. If a thousand people do, it will be seen as a major problem. This happened with Long Island College Hospital, although its future isn’t assured, he said, until a new operator is found. While he has had Governor Cuomo’s attention on this issue, he urged everyone concerned with LICH’s fate to keep pressure on the Governor, the legislature, and the state Department of Health. With regard to the specific goal of keeping the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in its present building, he said that “having an impact” isn’t the same as “all-out victory.” He had, he said, been involved in discussions that would assure that there would be continuous library service for Brooklyn Heights, and that any new facility would be adequate for the community’s needs.
As an example of citizen action spurring action in Albany, Squadron cited Toba Potosky, a resident of a Mitchell-Lama co-op who was present at the meeting, for proposing a bill that he sponsored and that was passed, to make such housing available to more people.
Another question concerned the universal pre-K programs promised by Mayor-elect de Blasio. Jim DeVore, president of Community Education Council 15, suggested that charter schools be allowed to offer pre-K (they aren’t presently allowed to do this) in exchange for allowing the CECs greater authority over issues like co-location. Squadron said he favored giving CECs more authority, and putting them under borough presidents, as community boards presently are. He added that, along with pre-K, he thought after school programs for middle schoolers was an important issue.
The problems experienced by voters in recent elections was another concern raised by an attendee. Squadron called on Democratic District Leader Jo Anne Simon to discuss the difficulties in hiring poll workers. She said the hours are long and the work difficult, noting that the workers’ handbook lists 28 steps needed to close a polling place. She also said that she tries to keep the same workers together at polling places with which they’re familiar, but that the Board of Elections often frustrates her by moving workers to new sites.
Heights resident Carolyn McIntyre, who has been very active in the effort to preserve the Brooklyn Heights library, said she was dismayed by what she saw as more and more “exploitiation” and “heartlessness” in contemporary life in the City. Squadron said he believed there has been a “failure of government” stemming from a belief that “it has no role in alleviating pain.” Emphasizing what he sees as the dysfunctional quality of New York State government, he said it is “structurally designed to encourage people to do the wrong things.” While he is proud of his role in passing ethics legislation, much remains to be done.