Liberal advocacy groups that helped Democrats win control of New York state government last fall say they're becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in Albany on bills to legalize recreational marijuana, invest in clean energy and strengthen tenant rights.
In a joint statement released Monday, organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance, Citizen Action and New York Communities for Change blamed Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, for blocking proposals that he claims to support, such as ones to legalize pot or give licenses to immigrants who entered the country illegally.
The legislature is scheduled to adjourn June 19. Cuomo and lawmakers insist they're working hard to find compromises and pass bills. But the groups behind the statement worry the session will end with Democrats pointing fingers rather than passing bills.
"Governor Cuomo, we demand that you cease your reckless efforts to block and water down these issues," the groups wrote in their statement. Other organizations signing on to the statement included VOCAL-NY, the Alliance for Quality Education, the Long Island Progressive Coalition and Make the Road New York.
The unusually strong tone reflects the frustration of many groups that had hoped Democratic control of government would ease passage for liberal priorities that were blocked when Republicans controlled the state Senate. Yet even after Democrats won control of both the Senate and Assembly last fall, the proposals have become mired in a Capitol known for political horse trading.
"It shows that the more Albany changes, the more Albany stays the same," said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change.
Fresh off last fall's victory, Democrats began the year with a flurry of votes on abortion rights, gun control and other liberal priorities. But as the session proceeded the pace slowed, and Democrats increasingly turned on one another. Last week, Cuomo accused the Senate of dragging its feet. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, dismissed the barb, saying Cuomo must be "stressed."
Cuomo and top lawmakers insist there's still time to legalize marijuana, or to strengthen rent regulations before New York City's rent stabilization rules expire this summer. But Cuomo is already signaling that if the session ends without progress on high-profile bills, it will be the legislature's fault.
"We have 11 days left in the legislative session ... it goes very quickly," Cuomo said Friday, referencing the number of work days left. "And there are a number of items that need to be attended to that have not been attended to."
On Monday, Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi fired back at the groups, which he said were also behind former "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon's failed Democratic primary challenge to Cuomo last year.
"This is the same brain trust that ran Cynthia Nixon's failed campaign into the ground so excuse me if I'm not taking their grievances seriously," Azzopardi said in an email to The Associated Press. "They can complain all they want while we continue to move New York forward."
On marijuana, likely the session's biggest issue, lawmakers must work out the details of taxing and regulating the drug. Some, including Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), want the legislation to include the expungement of past low-level marijuana convictions. Others do not.
"Our eye is focused on getting things done," Stewart-Cousins told reporters Wednesday. "Our hope is that we'll be able to come to consensus on a lot of things."
Kassandra Frederique, state director of the Drug Police Alliance, said supporters of legalization are tired of waiting and will hold Democrats accountable if they can't pass a bill.
"Move. Act. Lead," suggested Kassandra Frederique, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Do what we as the voters asked you to do."