Once upon a time, William Jefferson Clinton ran for the position of president of the United States. He was surrounded by many wise advisers, including a character named James Carville. Clinton was opposing the incumbent George W. Bush. Of all the wisdom that Carville provided, the most important campaign strategy was when he told Clinton “it’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton ran on that issue and defeated President Bush.
For the past three months, the state Legislature has been hung up on two issues. One is bail reform and the other is housing. If I were to paraphrase Carville’s advice to the Albany members, I would say “it’s bail reform, stupid.” Last year Gov. Kathy Hochul squeaked out an election victory in a campaign that was dominated by one issue, bail reform. Republican candidate Lee Zeldin hammered Hochul day in and day out on the crime issue with cries for bail reform as his consistent message.
Gov. Hochul, to her credit, has insisted that the final budget contain language giving judges more discretion in certain cases. By providing more discretion on making certain bail decisions, quite a few felons will remain jailed and will not be a threat to the community. For some unfathomable reason, some of the Democratic decision-makers are determined to battle against any reforms, even though it is the Republican Party’s most potent issue. Last year that issue was so deadly that it even impacted four congressional races and it cost the Democrats in Washington a House majority.
The major stumbling block to revising bail conditions comes mostly from a handful of New York City legislators, who vehemently oppose any changes. Many of the reform opponents never travel outside of their own districts and have no idea what the rest of the region is thinking. In the 2022 elections, a number of long-term Democratic Assembly incumbents were defeated because of the public’s concerns about rising crime and the bail issue. The Queens Asian community, which had been a consistent supporter of the Democratic Party, chose to support more Republicans for the same reasons.
The 2024 elections promise to be the most hotly contested races in our country’s history. In addition to the battle for the White House, there are contests for the United States Senate that could tip the scales to the Republican Party. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will be seeking a new term and both the Assembly and Senate candidates will be running in revised legislative districts. It is fair to assume that once again crime and bail issues will dominate all of those races. If the current legislature falls to tackle these issues, it is a recipe for electoral disaster.
The second issue that the Legislature must address is the lack of affordable housing throughout New York State. Each year thousands of young New Yorkers leave our state because they can’t afford to rent an apartment or buy a home. Local college graduates are departing in staggering numbers because Long Island is not offering them a place to call home. Many of them find apartments in Queens, but others opt to move to places like North Carolina, where you can buy a home at affordable prices.
Because of her concern for the lack of housing Gov. Hochul proposed that local communities be forced to build new housing. Her good faith proposal has stirred up enormous opposition and cries about violations of home rule. If you want to rile up Long Island politicians, all you have to do is suggest that local zoning should be ignored. So at this point in time, the governor has found out that you don’t mess with local zoning laws in the name of the state.
Most issues before the state Legislature are capable of being solved, but the housing shortage confrontation will require the services of a magician. I don’t have any advice on housing compromises, but if the Democrats don’t get rid of the bail issue once and for all, they will face oblivion in 2024.