Department of Total Reinvention: One House Legislature for New York State

July 31, 2017

If you like to think big, read Richard Emery’s opinion piece in today’s Daily News. Emery is the lawyer who won the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case that resulted in the abolition of New York City’s Board of Estimates. He writes:

Ascent to leadership in a reformed unicameral body would require openness and respect for members that simply does not now exist.

It is not as if there is no precedent for creating a one-house legislature here in New York. Though only one state — Nebraska — is unicameral, virtually all localities, counties and cities in New York have unicameral bodies.

In 1989, I won a case in the U.S. Supreme Court that resulted in the abolition of the New York City Board of Estimate. It was clear then that the best reform for the city was to give lawmaking powers to a responsive, unicameral City Council.

Notwithstanding the views of a cadre of nostalgic fixers, there is no question that this has transformed city government from a system of graft among county leaders that controlled the votes of borough presidents into a transparent, responsive, largely progressive, publicly financed, representative democracy.

Emery is right that a unicameral legislature would be a huge and effective reform. Unfortunately, his opinion piece is sure to add to ammunition to the elected officials who oppose a constitutional convention precisely because it might result in giant changes, including changes that cost them their jobs.