A proposed State law that would set aside two seats on the board of the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) for residents of the community is now on the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo, awaiting his signature or veto.
(Editor’s Note: Readers who wish to contact Governor Cuomo to voice an opinion about this bill should consult the paragraph of this article for information on how to make their views known.)
The bill, if signed by the Governor, would upend decades of practice in which residents of the 92 acres of landfill between West Street and the Hudson River were not legally guaranteed any representation on the board of the agency that governs them. The bill now in front of the Governor followed a long and tortuous path to the brink of becoming law. More than a decade ago, Community Board 1 (CB1) began enacting resolutions calling for residents to sit on the BPCA board. Several times, measures to this effect were introduced in the State legislature, routinely passing the Democrat-dominated Assembly, but repeatedly foundering in the Republican-Controlled Senate.
A reprise of this dynamic appeared likely in the spring of 2017, as this year’s legislative session drew to a close. But in the waning days of the legislature’s term, a series of frantic, behind the scenes moves resurrected and amended the bill multiple times, before it finally passed both houses after midnight on the last day of the session.
The next step was for it to come before the Governor. That happened (after a months-long pause) on Wednesday, when the Assembly conveyed the measure, as part of a package of similar bills, to the Executive Chamber. The next steps are a blend of straightforward and obscure procedures. If the Governor signs the bill, it becomes law effective immediately. If he vetoes the measure, it is defeated. But if he does neither, the outcome depends on the timing. If the legislature were in session, the bill would automatically become law ten days after it was conveyed to the Governor. Because the legislature is not currently in session, however, the rules change. In this case, the Governor has 30 days to sign or veto the measure. But if he takes no action, the bill does not become law as it would during a legislative session. Instead, through a maneuver called a “pocket veto,” it will be considered dead.
Governor Cuomo has utilized the pocket veto sparingly during his time in Albany. He avoided the maneuver entirely during his four years in office term, and has used it on four occasions in his second term: three bills were halted in this way in 2015, and one more was scotched in 2016. (By contrast, Governor George Pataki blocked bills via the pocket veto 63 times during his 12 years in office, but Governor Cuomo’s two Democratic predecessors — David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer — never used it.)
The timing of the BPCA measure reaching his desk (which is largely controlled by the Governor’s office) raises the possibility, however, that the bill to put residents on the BPCA board will be allowed to die in this manner. Arguing against this is the fact that all four previous pocket vetoes were for controversial measures. (They involved loosening accountability for police officers accused of misconduct, allowing the city of Buffalo to adjudicate traffic tickets, and — in both years — a plan to privatize a State agency that oversees horse racing.) The BPCA board measure is not controversial, in that it has nearly unanimous support from Lower Manhattan community leaders, and passed both houses of the legislature by overwhelming majorities. Arguably, it does restrict the Governor’s power, by limiting the pool of appointees he may consider for the BPCA board. But this is more of a theoretical restriction than an actual infringement, because Governor Cuomo appointed three new directors to the BPCA’s seven-member board in June, days before the bill now on his desk passed the legislature. If history is any guide, all of these members will likely serve on the BPCA board for years to come — which may mean that the Mr. Cuomo will be comfortable signing a bill that could, in practice, limit choice more for a future Governor than for himself.
Lower Manhattan elected officials and community leaders speak with one voice in urging Governor Cuomo to sigh the measure. State Assembly member Deborah Glick, who was the lead sponsor of the bill in her chamber of the legislature, says, “I eagerly await the Governor’s signature on this bill that will make certain that the voices of Battery Park City residents are heard by the Battery Park City Authority.”
Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou (who also sponsored the measure) says, “our community has fought long and hard to secure local voices at BPCA. That’s why I am urging, along with my colleagues, that the Governor sign into law our bill requiring two Battery Park City residents be appointed to its board, which was already a compromise reached after we pushed, along with the community, for a resident majority. Our campaign for improved representation at BPCA has long prioritized greater community involvement on the board, and that’s why my colleagues and I will continue to push for more local voices in the Authority’s decision-making process.”
Newly elected State Senator Brian Kavanagh observes, “local representation is the bedrock of our system of government, and that should be as true in Battery Park City as it is in the rest of the City. Battery Park City was founded as a development project and is now a thriving community, and local residents need to have a say in how it is run. I call on the Governor to sign this bill to give residents of Battery Park City a real voice on the BPCA board.”
Former State Senator Daniel Squadron (who held Mr. Kavanagh’s seat until resigning in August to lead for new non-profit that seeks to incubate progressive leadership at the state level around the nation), notes, “I’m excited that Battery Park City is one step closer to having permanent community representation on the board. The community’s great advocacy has almost put this bill over the top.”
City Council member Margaret Chin says, “it is of the greatest importance that the Governor sign this bill which gives the residents of Battery Park City a real voice in the future of their neighborhood. For my constituents, the stakes could not be higher. If we are to push forward efforts to preserve affordability for families and seniors, to ensure the safety of our children, and to build a more resilient neighborhood, we must have true resident representation on the BPCA board. I urge the Governor not to delay in enacting this important legislation so that the will of the people is heard.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer reflects that, “on issues ranging from recreational facilities to public safety, the Battery Park City Authority board has shown it needs to do a much better job of including the Battery Park City community in its decision-making. We need a BPCA board that is more accountable to and inclusive of the residents of this community. I support this bill and urge Governor Cuomo to approve it.”
Battery Park City resident Tammy Meltzer says, “For Battery Park City residents, no bill has been more important this year. We need the Governor to sign it.”
The depth of public support for the bill among Battery Park City locals can be gauged by a June rally that drew more than 100 residents. At this rally, Justine Cuccia, one of the founders of Democracy for Battery Park City, a grassroots organization that has collected more than 2,500 petition signatures and has lobbied for years to have neighborhood residents appointed to the Authority’s board, said, “we need Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign this bill. Why? For people who live here to have a voice in how our community is governed: Sign the bill!” Those words (“sign the bill!!”) were taken up as a chant by the crowd, who responded in unison at each pause in the litany of reasons why residents hope the Governor will put his signature on the measure.
There are several ways for Battery Park City residents to contact Governor Cuomo, if they wish to share an opinion about the bill he is considering, which is formally known as, “A4002A.” His office telephone number is 518-474-8390. He can be emailed by browsing www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form, filling out the online form, and typing a message. (When communicating with the Governor’s office via this web page, users should select “Legislation” from the pulldown “Topic” menu, and type “A4002A” in the subject field.) Governor Cuomo’s local representative in Manhattan, Matthew Rubin, can also be emailed at Matthew.Rubin@exec.ny.gov, or reached via telephone at 212-681-4580.
(Editor’s Note: Ms. Cuccia is related to the reporter who wrote this story.)