I USED TO ADVISE my political science and journalism students to stand outside the Legislative Office Building in Albany and ask the first 50 passers-by the name of New York State’s lieutenant governor. I also suggested that they ask who the New York governor and the Vice President of the United States were. The exercise proved that relatively few people know who their elected officials are. Remember that our most well attended election is the presidential contest and that only half the eligible voters show up for that one. We proclaim ourselves to be a democratic nation and even send our children to fight based on our democratic ideology. Think about that.

Not much has changed since my days of college teaching except I suspect that three-term governor Andrew Cuomo was pretty well known. There were a lot of reasons why, not the least of which was his famous father. His shrewd anti-Trump positioning helped the younger Cuomo as well. Unfortunately, the notion that a majority of the people could name the current governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, is preposterous. But even if a small group knows who she is, if you were to ask one of them to name one thing that she has done, it’s unlikely they could do so. That raises a lot of questions about how effective our democracy is. How do we get people to pay attention to politics? How come they don’t? The answer is easy—they don’t think that they have a good reason to. They are wrong, of course, because the more people don’t pay attention, the more politicians will think they have license to do bad things.

Kathy Hochul is actually doing a pretty good job but that leads to the age old, troubling question, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it really happen?” Now we have all kinds of contests for what were formerly regarded as insignificant offices like lieutenant governor. With increasing regularity, lieutenant governors have had opportunities to move up to the top job but even when they do, they may get there anonymously. Remember that the present governor, Kathy Hochul succeeded to her top job because she was Cuomo’s lieutenant. Let’s also remember that the lieutenant governor’s duties are pretty much all ceremonial. They have almost nothing to do other than presiding over the Senate on the rare occasions that they are called upon to do so. But as we learned when Cuomo went down in disgrace, things can change very quickly. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: DiNapoli knows what we need

I GUESS MY ADMIRATION for New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is pretty well known by now. The guy really works at his job and we are fortunate to have a consistent DiNapoli looking over New York’s finances. The fact that he has been around all these years serves us all well. He started out in the state legislature and when he was chosen as comptroller, some people didn’t think he could do the tough job he was chosen for. They couldn’t have been more wrong. It turns out that DiNapoli has done a superb job. People know and respect this guy. There was a recent political juncture at which people were calling me and suggesting that DiNapoli ought to be the next New York governor. I don’t know about you, but I think that having him continue in the job he does so well is good for all of us. That doesn’t mean that DiNapoli shouldn’t aspire to the top job, but his steady eye on the state’s finances counts for a lot.

DiNapoli is now taking the lead in one of the most pressing and important agenda items confronting our society. He is demanding that more be done to provide mental health training for school staff. We know how critical this campaign is. One needs to look no further than the most recent school shooting. There are just too many guns within the reach of the people who would kill our kids. I am not telling you anything that you don’t already know. But as each of these terrible mass shootings happen, we keep coming back to guns and mental health.

Mental health is a crisis in this country. Virtually every time we see one of these shootings, the perpetrator is described as mentally ill. It makes a lot of sense, therefore, to devote more resources to helping with this problem. We do know that there are not enough mental health professionals, including school social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and teachers trained to spot mental health issues. That means that we really can’t address the problem until we have the resources needed to plug the gap in our response time. As always, money becomes imperative so we ask ourselves what the price of a single life might be. Read more…