News & Politics

Senator Straddle


At 70, after nearly 32 years of tightrope walking through the state senate, Roy Goodman, the patrician acrobat who poses as liberal hairshirt in Albany’s stone-age GOP caucus, is running hard to hold his East Side seat against an expected Democratic tide. His opponent, longtime organizer Liz Krueger, is as relentless a champion of working people and the poor as Goodman is of the rich, and her energy has helped make it the first real race in decades for the Ex-Lax millionaire.

The challenge has also brought to the fore all the contradictions that have dogged Goodman since his party’s leadership evolved from Nelson Rockefeller to Joe Bruno, and from John Lindsay to Rudy Giuliani. When Goodman runs in a district that stretches from 14th Street to 96th, he stresses his pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-gun-control and good-government credentials. But in Albany, he has repeatedly opposed motions by the Democratic minority to put precisely those issues to a vote on the floor of the senate, preferring the party line to a position of principle. This has resulted in him voting to bottle up bills he’s sponsored, a corkscrew exercise worthy of Sydney gold.

Goodman has, for example, long been the prime sponsor of a hate crimes bill, but the Republicans in the senate, especially current leader Bruno, refused to allow a vote on the bill in part because it included violence against gays. The Empire State Pride Agenda, the largest statewide gay civil rights organization, denounced Goodman in a November 1999 release, saying he “hasn’t even got the bill voted out of committee” after sponsoring it “for over a decade.” While Goodman’s leadership stonewalled and the assembly passed a one-house bill every year, New York became one of only nine states without a law that stiffened penalties for bias assaults.

When Democrats tried to force a discharge of the bill in 1999, Goodman sided with 29 members of his Republican conference and voted against it. He did not even join the six Republicans who missed the vote. He got a little smarter this year, and when the Democrats tried again to pass a discharge, he was among the absent.

Of course, the bill finally became law in July, when the GOP decided that blocking it might hurt them in swing senate districts during a crucial re-apportionment year. Cardinal John O’Connor’s change of heart—moving from opposition to support—also played a role in the bill’s belated passage. And now Goodman is citing it as a legislative achievement worthy of reelection when, in truth, a decade of partisan delay sandbagged a deterrent that might’ve prevented injuries or saved lives.

Goodman repeated this performance on gun control, fruitlessly sponsoring reforms such as an assault weapons ban as more of a personal political shield than a genuine legislative program. In 1994 and 1999, he helped defeat Democratic attempts to discharge a facsimile of his own bill. In 2000, when Governor Pataki suddenly became a grand champion of his own gun package, Goodman voted again to block 10 Democratic bills from hitting the floor. But then he became a prime sponsor of Pataki’s more limited reforms, which passed, allowing Candidate Goodman to salute himself again as a success.

But the Pataki/Goodman bill only requires that new handguns be sold with trigger locks, while the Democratic bill mandated the use of the locks. The Democratic bill forced gun owners with children to keep the guns in a locked box; the GOP bill does not. The Democrats banned all assault weapons; the Republicans, only those manufactured after September 13, 1994. Goodman’s menu of gun laws was not only stale; it was half a loaf.

If hate crimes and guns were two eventual Goodman triumphs, albeit partial and having little to do with him, he’s still nowhere on a host of other posturing issues. He’s the sponsor of a gay civil rights bill that has languished interminably in his homophobic house. He voted against discharging an HMO liability bill creating a right to sue. He joined his party in bottling up a clinic access bill stronger than the GOP’s.

Though routinely endorsed by The New York Times, Goodman has also fought Democratic efforts to ban soft money and transform the state’s notorious campaign finance laws, voting against motions to discharge three 1999 and 2000 reform bills that would’ve reduced contribution limits and required greater disclosure as well. In 1998, he did the same on other campaign finance bills, one of which mandated the naming of the intermediaries or “bundlers” who gather gobs of compromising contributions, a requirement under the celebrated New York City system. This time, however, neither the cardinal nor the governor bailed Goodman out, and his votes helped prevent any reform at all.

Ironically, Goodman has voted for at least one Democratic discharge motion, siding with some 80,000 rent-stabilized tenants in his district when Bruno tried in 1997 to kill the city’s rent regulation laws. Matters of principle—from gun to soft money controls—can’t compel him to break ranks. But a vast and organized voting bloc back home can.

The senator did not respond to Voice attempts to get an explanation for this pattern, but in 1984, when questioned about a similar array of discharge votes, his justification was that the Democratic motions “were efforts to erode the authority of the majority leader.” Goodman, who also doubles as leader of the Manhattan GOP, said then: “I haven’t bolted the party.” He insisted that “one has to pick and choose one’s fights with their leadership.”

His argument, of course, goes full circle. He voted then, he said, “as a matter of party discipline,” even though he is a sixth of the Republican margin in the 36-25 senate and his efforts to sustain GOP control block virtually all of the do-good bills that get him reelected every two years. If the Republicans didn’t have his and a handful of other votes, hate crime victims wouldn’t have had to wait a decade for protection, guns would wind up in childproof security, HMOs would not be insulated from consumer grievance, gargantuan gifts would not dominate the electoral process, and gays would have the same rights as other targeted groups.

The Democratic slogan in senate races could simply be: “We can do for you now what Roy and the Republicans will take a decade to do.”

The final irony is that Goodman is one of the state’s master fundraisers. He still collects donations from half a dozen Rockefellers. The people who dump money into his senate campaign committee presumably believe it is going to support his brand of hybrid Republicanism—socially liberal with a pro-business economic bent. But a look at Goodman’s campaign filings since 1995 identified $133,000 that he raised for himself and transferred to more right-wing committees, most of it going to none other than Joe Bruno and the statewide GOP senate committee. He threw another $33,500 in Manhattan party funds at the state GOP and Conservative parties, as well as other right-wing candidacies.

Senator Pass-Through launders Manhattan money through these committees for his upstate-dominated senate caucus, as well as prolife candidates like Dan Lundgren, who ran for California governor in 1998 and lost. There’s no way of knowing how much he raises directly for Bruno’s committee or others, since bundlers like him are not required to be disclosed.

In part perhaps because of this steady campaign largesse, Goodman consistently ranks at the very top of the senate’s big spenders, allocated well over a million in publicly subsidized staff and office costs, more than any other member. That’s hardly the way most legislative leaders treat the true mavericks in their midst. He is a fake artifact, a garrulous grandstander who’s run out of alibis, his act too tired for a new century.

Research: Kim Brown, Jennifer Fagan, Rob Morlino

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