As I have written on these pages before (“City Bar’s Support of Constitutional Convention is Flawed,” June 14, 2017), in 1997 I was in favor of a constitutional convention but this year I am persuaded that the risks are greater than the opportunities. I also believe that the delegate selection process, long criticized by even those who support the convention, is sufficiently flawed that it would probably lead to a convention that looks and feels like the Albany morass so many abhor. Undoubtedly, there will be sitting legislators and their staff running for such positions (and collecting a second salary).
The nub of the convention proponents’ position was embodied by one of the panelists at the recent New York County Lawyers forum described in the New York Law Journal’s “Bar Associations Push for Constitutional Convention” (Oct. 31): Greenberg Traurig’s Henry Greenberg opined “This is the last best hope for fundamental reform.” Seriously?
There are limits to what cities and towns can do, but the state’s Municipal Home Rule Law, for example, allows voters in each of our 62 counties to amend City Charters to reform certain laws (see my suggestions in “Fixing government from the ground up: Say no to a constitutional convention and focus on local reform,” NY Daily News, Oct. 20). Utilizing this statute, voters in New York City enacted the most robust campaign finance reforms in the nation; term limits for municipal office holders; and liberalized ballot access requirements. New York City can go further: early voting; easier registration and enrollment procedures; and no-excuse mail-in ballots. Other important reforms, such as streamlining the judiciary, would require state legislation or an amendment to the state constitution—difficult to achieve, but worth the effort.
Instead of giving up on the legislative process, New Yorkers across the state can enact reforms locally and continue to press for statewide changes. I take the long view and remain optimistic. A convention, on the other hand, creates the wrong kind of opportunity, especially in uncertain political times.
Jerry H. Goldfeder is a special counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. He teaches Election Law at Fordham Law School and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and previously served as New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s special counsel for public integrity.