Letter: Statehouse reporters needed now more than ever

To the editor:

The recent retirement of long time New York Daily News Albany reporter Ken Lovett is a major loss. While a majority of citizens continue to be apathetic, there are still many of us who really care about the actions and activities of both our elected officials and state government agencies. Their budgetary, legislative and regulatory actions directly impact both our individual civil and economic liberties. There is a great burden on those few brave remaining independent players including “New York Now” on PBS, the Albany Times Union, our own Legislative Gazette, City and State along with handful of daily newspapers including the New York Times, Newsday, New York Daily News and New York Post who can afford to maintain a presence in Albany to hold the governor, state comptroller, attorney general and members of the Legislature along with various state agencies accountable.

Photo courtesy of @klnynews
Longtime Albany reporter Ken Lovett

News releases and newsletters from members of the state Senate and Assembly are written, prepared, printed and mailed by staffers at taxpayers’ expense. Frequently they serve as propaganda vehicles to announce pork barrel member item projects or selective votes on issues. These so-called “constituent newsletters” are really just campaign literature used as a tool to raise the name identification of incumbent public officials and help grease the wheels for the next election. There is no real information provided as to actual votes on all bills, how many hours worked, listing of campaign contributions from various “pay-for-play” special interest groups, disclosure of financial reimbursements for daily meals or travel from home to Albany and back along with the hours and amount of compensation for those holding down second jobs.

Too many downstate members of the Legislature enjoy keeping what goes on in Albany a secret from both constituents and family. The same is true for many upstate members as well. How many scandals have there been over the years involving members of the Legislature with a child out of wedlock or an “Albany” girlfriend on the side? No members of the Legislature like to openly talk about the Albany evening cocktail party circuit sponsored by the army of lobbyists and pay-for-play crowd, while the Legislature is in session. Like the commercial for Las Vegas, “what happens in Albany, stays here” and will not be passed on to the outside world.

With the decline of readership and advertising revenues, newspaper content continues to shrink. This puts even more pressure on the remaining reporters assigned to Albany to fight for every column inch in their respective newspapers. There is intense competition between international, state, county, city, local, business, sports, entertainment and other sections of every daily newspaper. With the increasing costs of news print, plus competition from local nightly news broadcasts and the Internet, it is continues to become more difficult for newspapers outside of Albany to provide real detailed coverage of state government on a daily basis. News about votes on key legislation, members earmarking their own pork barrel projects, Legislature committee hearings, including testimony by fellow members and representatives from various special interest groups along with fundraising events hosted by the Albany “pay-for-play” lobbyists is difficult to come by. There are more registered lobbyists on Albany’s State Street than anywhere in the nation. Only the famous Washington, D.C. “K” Street Congressional lobbyists are more abundant in numbers and dollars.

I’d like to be a fly on the wall when Governor Andrew Cuomo, Democratic state Senate leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Democratic state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie get together behind closed doors to cut all the backroom deals that the faithful members of the Legislature usually follow in lock step. Who wouldn’t also want to listen in when Stewart-Cousins or Heastie convene a meeting with members of their respective flocks to inform them how they should consider voting on future legislation?

Usually with only one staff person assigned by those major daily newspapers that can afford a full-time employee — this handful of brave reporters are vastly outnumbered by all the press spokespersons for elected officials, government and quasi government state agencies, along with hundreds of lobbyists from various special interest groups.

There are still many taxpayer citizen activists like me who have a continued thirst for news from our state Capitol.

Larry Penner

Great Neck