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Coronavirus is a threat to New York’s democracy

Few events in recent memory have gobbled up headlines quite like the Coronavirus. And while world leaders draft legislation and pledge billions in the fight against COVID-19, it’s important to remain vigilant and ensure that our democracy remains intact during this world-wide stress test. That’s because in the past, leaders have used trying times as an excuse to drastically expand their powers. And according to Gothamist, that’s a move that Governor Andrew Cuomo may have just pulled. 

Last Tuesday, the New York state legislature approved Senate Bill S7919, a $40 million emergency funding package intended to contain the spread of the virus. But tucked inside that piece of legislation was a provision that gives Cuomo an unsettling amount of executive power. 

New York law already allows the governor to suspend local and state rules that interfere with efforts to contain a disaster, but the new law expands the definition of a disaster from a “past occurrence” to something that is “impending.” Lawmakers up and down the aisle, from State Senator Julia Salazar to Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, have spoken out against the law, claiming it gives Cuomo, a man not known for his prudent use of executive power, far too much control. It’s hard to tell whether Cuomo will abuse his new powers, either in this crisis or one that has yet to come, but in either case we should remember to wash our hands frequently, abstain from touching our faces, and, most importantly, continue to fight for our civil liberties.

In other news….

  • Not much adds fuel to a cynic’s fire as effectively as catching an ethics manager being unethical. And as bad as that sounds, it’s exactly what happened in the case of MTA Compliance and Ethics Manager Andrea Abaquin, writes the New York Post. Thanks to a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General, we know that Abaquin betrayed her job title by collecting pay for hours she did not work, using her work-only Metrocard for personal travel, and failing to disclose that her husband worked for an MTA contractor (disclosure is required by New York State ethics laws). Abaquin was issued a warning, suspended for two weeks without pay, and ordered to give $1,848 back to the MTA for improper use of her work pass. The IG’s office deserves credit for catching Abaquin in the act—but we wish they’d been as dedicated to investigating people with actual power.
  • The battle for campaign finance reform is as important as the fight for democracy, write law professor Zephyr Teachout and New York District 9 congressional candidate Adem Bunkeddeko in Gotham Gazette. Democracy vouchers provide each voter with a set dollar amount that they can contribute to their preferred candidate, leveling the playing field and allowing ordinary voters to have a greater impact on campaign finance. The system forces candidates to appeal to constituents who previously could not donate, giving marginalized groups more of a voice in politics and making campaign finance a more transparent process.

How you can get involved: 

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Love,

The Take

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