Hochul Sees The Political Danger Here

By Alan Chartock | April 2, 2022


Speaker Carl Heastie, who leads the New York State Assembly, seems to have a definite view concerning “bail reform” that appears to differ from that of the governor, Kathy Hochul.

A little background: the Democrats got their behinds kicked in the last election over the issue. You will recall that the liberal contingent in the Democratic-led New York State legislature quite correctly passed legislation in an effort to equalize the way in which the bail system in the state treated suspects after arrest. Those who had resources could fork out the big bucks needed to get released from custody, while those without deep pockets had to languish in the pokey because they didn’t have the money necessary to get out. This became an issue in the last election when the Democrats who sponsored the so-called bail reform bill found out that they had lost some middle-class voters who thought that people released on bail were likely to go on and commit more crimes.

That led to some problems for the liberal Democrats and alienated some of the middle-class voters. In other words, the concept of bail reform was certainly correct in that it was philosophically right, but it led to political problems for the Democrats.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the message was received by the battered Democrats who are now showing some signs of division. On one side are the liberals in the state legislature. They are correct in their assertions that the poor are more likely to have to stay in jail due to their inability to post bail. Meanwhile, the rich and middle-class voters want to be protected and have reacted strongly against idea of bail reform. Never mind the statistical analysis that suggests that those released are not committing crimes at the level the critics of bail reform are suggesting. But hey, political reality is what people believe, correctly, or not.

This is where it gets interesting. Governor Hochul, who is no fool, gets the message and starts to suggest that the baby should get split. If I am reading her words correctly, she thinks that dangerous folks should be kept in jail while the powerful Speaker, Carl Heastie, takes the politically and factually correct position that it isn’t right for poor people stay in custody just because they can’t afford bail.

Obviously, Heastie has to listen to what the liberal Democrats in his conference are telling him while, like it or not, Governor Hochul knows which way they more conservative wind is blowing. It is clear that she sees the political danger here. If the Democrats continue to lose seats, their huge majority in both houses may be threatened and her own election prospects will be diminished by her endorsing this bail reform.

Since there is honor among politicians, I am sure that both Heastie and Hochul understand and honor each other’s positions. Let there be no mistake: the Heastie position is correct, so-called bail reform is a worthy idea. It is just one more piece of proof that the political game is loaded in favor of those with money. As a person of color, Heastie knows that and understands what injustice is all about.

So what will happen? Obviously, the governor has no cards to play since she can’t make the legislature do what they don’t want to do. The Republicans and conservatives have found a powerful card to play here. They are winning elections based on this split and are unlikely to change positions now. They think that have discovered political gold and will play the bail reform card to the hilt. There may be an agreement between the Speaker and the Governor to allow for the difference of opinion. The Speaker is right, and the governor knows what to do to win an upcoming election.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected]