‘A New Day’

With Silver’s Support, New York Gets Best Chance to Fix Rockefeller Drug Laws

"I hope to stir up their compassion a little bit," he says, referring to the clergy at the forum. "I hope they will go to their congregations and preach sermons on it and have discussions on it with their communities."

Other activists are also sharpening their weapons. The Kunstler Fund plans a major rally in Albany in early January, the day of the state of the state address, and will hold demonstrations outside Silver's and Pataki's offices throughout the year. The Correctional Association of New York has scheduled two rallies for March, a lobbying day on the 20th for kids whose parents are locked up, and a day of statewide action on the 27th.

State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, who plans to reintroduce her bill to repeal the law this year, will begin holding hearings on Rockefeller with State Senator Tom Duane in New York City and Albany in the next few months. Barbara Clark, who heads the bipartisan legislative women's caucus, says they'll try to schedule a meeting with the governor's criminal justice officials in November to discuss their research into how the law has hurt women in particular.

New York State Assembly Speaker Silver: Reforming New York drug laws is "just a matter of doing it."
photo: Fred W. McDarrah
New York State Assembly Speaker Silver: Reforming New York drug laws is "just a matter of doing it."

Silver says he has asked Governor George Pataki to launch a bipartisan task force to explore common ground on Rockefeller reform. Pataki, he says, expressed interest in such a committee, but has not yet moved on putting one together. Some lawmakers say it's time the governor stopped using the elimination of parole as a bargaining chip for reform. "That's like the Patrick Ewing-Glen Rice trade," says Assemblyman Keith Wright. "It doesn't help anybody."

Still, in phone calls last week, many assembly and senate members confirmed the mood of action in the air. Everyone is confident. But everyone has been confident before.

"For me, this is like being a Knick fan," says Deborah Small, of the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation. "You start hoping with your head held high, and you believe and believe and believe and then the endgame comes and your hopes are dashed to hell. Certainly, a broad spectrum of people are calling for it now. There are political reasons to do it, and political reasons not to do it. It's a question of whether they will do it."

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