Pubdate: Thu, 10 Oct 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Author: James C. McKinley, Jr.
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)


ALBANY, Oct. 9 - With the election a month away, the Pataki administration 
has been quietly trying to negotiate solutions to some longstanding 
impasses on issues of importance to urban voters, which the Democrats have 
been using to criticize the governor.

In the last week, aides to Gov. George E. Pataki have circulated another 
proposed bill to overhaul the state's stiff mandatory sentences for drug 
crimes. They have also entered into talks intended to settle a lawsuit that 
accuses the state of shortchanging urban schools.

Last week, the governor sought to nail down a promise from his Republican 
colleagues in the Senate that a gay rights bill would be passed before the 
end of the year.

The Democratic candidate, H. Carl McCall, has dismissed the governor's 
moves on all three fronts as an attempt to create the appearance that he is 
trying hard for agreements without actually doing so. "It's purely 
cynical," said Steven Greenberg, Mr. McCall's spokesman.

Mr. Pataki's aides say, however, that the governor's efforts to break these 
deadlocks have been sincere. They deny any ulterior motives.

"The governor has directed his staff to work hard every day to try to reach 
agreements on these important issues," his spokesman, Michael McKeon, said. 
"There are obvious difficulties right now, but we want to be in a position 
to move quickly when the time is right for the Legislature."

Neither the bill to revamp drug sentences nor the gay rights bill has a 
chance of passing before the election, senior legislative aides said. The 
Democrats, who control the Assembly, have no incentive to give the 
Republican governor a victory on easing the drug laws before the election. 
The Republicans, who control the Senate, have no reason to pass the gay 
rights bill, which many of them oppose, so long as the governor remains 
comfortably ahead in polls.

Politics aside, the Assembly Democrats threw cold water on Mr. Pataki's 
latest proposal to soften the sentences for drug laws, saying it included 
several loopholes that would let prosecutors retain too much control over 
who receives drug treatment. The Democrats would rather give that power to 
judges. "It's meant to look like there is judicial discretion but there 
isn't any," one senior Assembly aide said.

On the surface, the administration has made several concessions to the 
Democrats in the latest bill, according to a draft given to The New York 
Times by a group that supports change in the drug laws. The new bill would 
allow far more people currently serving sentences for drug crimes to ask a 
judge to resentence them under the new law. Previously, the governor had 
proposed that only the top class of drug felons would be eligible to 
request a judge to look at their cases.

The newest proposal also allows judges to mandate treatment for people who 
have been convicted several times for nonviolent felonies but have never 
been diverted into a drug-rehabilitation program. Under the governor's 
previous bill, only people with one prior conviction would be eligible for 
drug treatments.

Still, the governor's critics say the new plan also includes several flaws 
and loopholes that benefit prosecutors and render the bill unacceptable to 
the Assembly. For instance, people arrested within 1,000 feet of a school 
or 100 feet of a park could not ask a judge to send them into treatment. 
That would disqualify most people arrested in New York City, advocates for 
addicts said.

"He's trying to get free press out of this thing to make him look like a 
reformer and he gets a sound bite in the Latino community," said Randy 
Credico, an organizer of Mothers of the New York Disappeared, which wants 
the laws repealed.

On the education lawsuit, the governor's aides said that they were opening 
a new round of talks with the plaintiffs, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, 
but that the negotiations were in their infancy and nothing concrete had 
been agreed upon. At the heart of the debate is the definition of a sound 
basic education, which the State Constitution requires all children to receive.

The governor continued to add to his list of Democratic supporters today as 
the mayor of Kingston, James M. Sottile, endorsed him just two days after 
another Democrat, Mayor Gerald D. Jennings of Albany, came out for the 

The New York City's teachers' union - usually a Democratic stronghold - 
also voted tonight to support the governor. The McCall camp accused the 
governor of buying the endorsement with an extra $200 million appropriation 
this year to pay for the teachers' contract.

Several McCall supporters said Mr. Sottile's endorsement was a turnaround 
and noted Kingston was denied a $750,000 community development grant 
earlier this year when he was supporting Mr. McCall. It was the first year 
since 1997 the city's application for a grant was denied, Mr. McCall's 
supporters said.
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