Pubdate: Fri, 06 Jun 2003
Source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (NY)
Copyright: 2003 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Author: Joel Stashenko, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)


NY's Most Powerful Movers, Shakers Open Doors to Record Mogul

ALBANY -- A coalition of music and movie personalities has managed to focus 
attention on Albany's seemingly constant, and perpetually ineffectual, 
efforts to change New York's mandatory drug sentencing laws.

The hip-hop record mogul Russell Simmons, in particular, showed some 
impressive abilities this week at gaining access to Albany's 
decision-makers that others pushing for Rockefeller drug law reform have 
not enjoyed.

In one foray to the Capitol, Simmons scored the coveted lobbying trifecta 
of getting face-to-face meetings with Gov. George Pataki and the 
Legislature's two majority leaders, Sen. Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker 
Sheldon Silver.

It's the kind of respect that Albany's ruling triumvirate normally reserves 
for visiting mayors of New York City, labor leaders like the powerful 
medical workers' union president Dennis Rivera, Roman Catholic cardinals 
and famous athletes.

Simmons, founder of the Def Jam record label, is no political neophyte. He 
is close to former federal Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo and was active in 
Cuomo's aborted Democratic campaign for governor last year.

Now he's moved to the forefront of the long lobbying effort to get the most 
severe aspects of the mid-1970s drug sentencing laws softened. Those laws, 
named for former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, can result in sentences of up to 
life in prison for possession of relatively small amounts of narcotics.

Simmons said he was encouraged by the enthusiasm that he heard from the 
state's leaders about changing the drug laws. He said it will come down to 
Pataki, Silver and Bruno in the next few weeks trying to reach a compromise 
to change drug laws that almost everyone condemns as overly harsh and 

"Everyone who's involved in this process who has a chance to make a change 
and has not aggressively worked toward getting these people who are 
suffering in jail out of jail ... I think they're criminals themselves," 
Simmons said.

On Wednesday, Simmons was among the politicians, music personalities and 
actors who rallied in New York City in favor of changing the drug laws.

After years of failure to reach a compromise on a new sentencing approach 
for nonviolent drug offenders, Silver said he'd take any help he can get to 
break the impasse.

"I would hope that maybe Russell Simmons' intervention is the catalyst that 
brings it about," Silver said.

Pataki said he thought progress was being made in recent talks on drug law 
reform. He stressed that while he'd accept lighter sentences and diversion 
into treatment for some nonviolent offenders, he wanted stiffer punishments 
for drug kingpins and for violent drug offenders.

Bruno said Simmons is having a "very positive effect" on negotiations over 
the drug laws.

"I liked him," said Bruno, a 74-year-old Republican from Rensselaer County. 
"I enjoyed the conversation. He wasn't prepared to like me 'cause he was 
told, he told me, 'People said don't go near Bruno because you'll never get 
along with him and he won't do anything at all about this.' I was told not 
to meet with him because I wouldn't like him."

Thanks to Simmons and others, advocates for change have managed to focus 
attention on negotiations over drug law reform after months at the Capitol 
where budgetary matters dominated the dialogue.

The Legislature is scheduled to end its regular session on June 19.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom