Pretty Vacant: Two Million Voters Have No Voice In Albany

13 Empty Seats In Legislature Since January

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The vacant district office of the 79 Assembly District (Karen Rouse/WNYC)

Thirteen seats in the New York’s State Legislature are vacant, most of them since January.

That means roughly two million New Yorkers are without a representative in the Senate or in the Assembly, nearly half of them black, Latino or Asian residents.

The reasons vary. Four Assembly members were forced out of office in corruption-related scandals. Four other seats were left empty after the legislators who held them were elected to the City Council. The remaining five were left without a representative when the former legislators who held them went on to new jobs in government or the private or non-profit sectors.

Voting rights advocates asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March to call for special elections to allow voters to pick someone to represent them in Albany. They were particularly concerned that minorities in Brooklyn and the Bronx, where many of the unoccupied seats are located, have no one in Albany advocating for them on issues like the state budget, hospital closures or funding for affordable housing.

“It’s the kind of situation where they have no voice at all, and that is something that should be unacceptable,” said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute on Latino Policy

“When there is no elected official there, there is silence,” said Esmeralda Simmons, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. “But cacophony and volume is what makes a difference in Albany.”

Voting rights advocate Esmeralda Simmons discusses vacant legislative districts (Karen Rouse/WNYC)

Cuomo said on a radio program in January that he was looking at it. But he also expressed concerns about the number of legislators entangled in corruption scandals and the cost of staging special elections. “You basically have to run a separate election, obviously, so it’s not something you want to do lightly," he said. Ultimately, he took no action.

John Conklin, spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections, said only the governor can call a special election for the state legislature or Congress. Otherwise, it happens in the next election cycle, which starts with primaries next month. Candidates are running for all 13 seats in the Nov. 4 general election.

They will take office in January 2015 – making it one full year that residents in the vacant districts had no advocate in Albany.


For a list of vacant seats in the New York state legislature, visit Gotham Gazette here.


David L. Lewis


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Comments [6]

Ronald Jones from New Jersey

Great reporting !

Aug. 22 2014 10:36 PM
Harvey Mesnikoff from brooklyn

Completely irresponsible behavior on the part of the governor and the legislation. It's called "taxation without representation."

Aug. 22 2014 04:20 PM
Gerry the Dem from Brooklyn

Cacophony and volume don't make the difference in Albany - quality legislators do. Seats with significant black and Latino populations are generally bedrock Democratic seats where Republicans can't hope to compete. Letting them have open primaries means competitive elections, as opposed to letting party leaders virtually appoint the winners via a deeply flawed special elections process. Lack of representation is a legitimate concern, but without special elections reform, it's better to leave these seats vacant until the voters can have a fair choice.

Aug. 21 2014 09:18 AM
Jon from Brooklyn

As it is almost Sept, with primaries coming up in 3 weeks and the general election in Nov, it seems ridiculous to hold a special election now. But perhaps a decision could be made that allows candidates elected to vacant seats to take office as soon as the results are certified rather than waiting until January.

Aug. 21 2014 12:28 AM
Owen Brunette from New York City

Most have been vacant since January. That seems a fairly long time. There should be a requirement to hold an election within say 9 months of a seat being vacated rather than making it discretionary and leaving it open to political manipulation and debate. That would allow positions to be elected with a November cycle and an interim but somewhat predictable and manageable special election cycle in areas requiring it in say May.

Aug. 20 2014 10:05 AM
Voting for Teachout from Bronx

CUOMO could of done something about this, but didn't. More reason to vote for Teachout.

Failed Cuomo policies, rhetoric about women's rights and voters rights, yet his administration couldn't get it together to have a special election.

With no representation and being a Bronx resident good luck going to the Bronx Borough Presidents office where they are packed to the house with political hacks.

Aug. 20 2014 09:08 AM

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