Monday, January 2, 2012

The NYSAC is not your friend

You may remember the New York State Association of Counties. Last February their transportation committee passed a resolution opposing complete streets legislation, and I observed that they, like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), constitute a lobbying organization protecting the interests of bureaucrats while pretending to be a governmental entity.

This week, Alan Chartock interviewed the Executive Director of NYSAC, Stephen Acquario. Chartock is pretty honest with his guests, but even he couldn't come right out and ask, "Where the fuck do you get off pretending that you represent the people?" if he wanted the guy to ever come back. Chartock is right to interview Acquario, because to my unending frustration, some people actually take this gang seriously.

The United States Senate and other one-state-one-vote organizations like AASHTO and the GHSA are pretty obviously unrepresentative, but the NYSAC goes so far beyond that level that I feel it's worth spending a post on. In case you weren't aware, here are some figures about New York State's counties.

The most populous county in New York, Kings (i.e. Brooklyn), contains almost 13 percent of the total population of the state, according to the 2010 Census. The five boroughs of New York City together contain 42% of the state's population, and the other five most populous counties (Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, Erie (Buffalo) and Monroe (Rochester)) contain 28%. Under a system of one person one vote, these ten counties would control 70% of the votes, and the other 52 counties would be irrelevant.

Instead, the NYSAC operates by a system of one county, one vote, which means that the representatives of the 70% of the population who live in the ten most populous counties only have 16% of the votes. The ten least populous counties (Hamilton, Schuyler, Yates, Lewis, Schoharie, Seneca, Essex, Wyoming, Orleans and Delaware), with their combined share of 1.63% of the population, control an equal 16% of the votes.

The NYSAC's Transportation and Public Works Committee, which passed the resolution, is similarly lopsided. It is chaired by Jean Raymond, the Supervisor of the Town of Edinburg, NY (population 1,384), which has no buses, no trains and no sidewalks. The co-chair is Randy Gibbon, the Director of Public Works for Chenango County (population 50,477), which actually contains New Berlin, the home of Nathan Lewis (and here's what Lewis has to say about streets). Also on the committee is Andrea Horsch, chief lobbyist for the New York City Department of Transportation, but it's not clear whether she gets five votes or one.

Somehow Monroe County (3.8% of the population), Broome (1.0%), Livingston (0.34%) and Wyoming County (0.22%) each have two seats on the Committee. Maybe they have one representative for transportation and one for public works, or one for the legislature and one for the county executive, but I can't tell if they get two votes. Regardless, I'm pretty sure that the NYC, Erie and Monroe County representatives (with more than half of the state's population) don't outweigh the other 19 committee members.

I hope I've established by now how lopsided this organization is. Now back to Stephen Acquario and his interview with Alan Chartock. This year, Chartock has been asking all his guests the same question about party control of the New York State Senate. Here are the statewide political party enrollments as of November 1 (PDF):

Working Families42,7760.37%

With the Democrats just shy of a majority of registered voters and the Republicans only claiming a quarter of them, it's pretty obvious that the State Senate will not stay in Republican hands without a bunch of dirty tricks. Acquario said that it was in "the counties"' interest for the Senate to stay in Republican control, because a Senate controlled by Democrats would be dominated by senators from New York City who won't pay any attention to the needs of "counties."

It seems pretty clear to me that the needs of "counties" shouldn't matter. Counties aren't people. They contain people, and we do need basic safeguards to prevent urban majorities from running roughshod over country dwellers, but giving residents of sparsely populated areas an overrepresentation in government is a really bad way to do that.

If you have any doubt about the representativeness of the NYSAC, consider this final point. The official name of the dominant party is the "New York State Democratic Committee." Longstanding usage is that things associated with the party will be referred to with the adjective "Democratic" with a capital D, as in "the Democratic Party" and "Democratic control." Several times in the interview, Acquario referred to these things as "the Democrat Party," "Democrat control" and so forth. This is a well-documented insult to the Democrats that has been used by Republicans for generations, and it is never used unintentionally. It's been called "fighting words."

I do not take that insult personally, because I'm not a Democrat either and I have no love for the party that killed bridge tolls. However, it's a clear signal that Acquario is a Republican partisan who sees the Democratic party as an enemy. It shows, unequivocally, that he has no interest in representing the needs of Democrats or city dwellers. By using it, Acquario has exposed the New York State Association of Counties as a tool for rural Republicans to attack urban interests.

It is clear that Andrea Horsch and the other representatives of populous counties in New York State are wasting their time participating in this sham organization. There are better ways of ensuring the protection of the people who live in rural parts of the state. I suggest that we put their time to better use and withdraw from the NYSAC any basis for their pretense of legitimacy.

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