SEPTEMBER 19, 2008
ALBANY COVERAGE, OR ITS LACK, EXPLAINED
Panel of journalists derides state government in Wagner College discussion
By PHIL HELSEL
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Long derided as a cesspool where lawmakers lead secret lives and “three men in a room” make all the real decisions, Albany isn’t covered more thoroughly by New York City media because it’s boring, a panel of editors told a crowd at Wagner College last night.
“It doesn’t have the kind of star power as Washington, where you’re talking about going to war, and it doesn’t have the immediacy of city government,” said Bill Hammond, a columnist who covers state government for the Daily News. “All these things push it off the front page — until there’s a prostitution scandal.”
Hammond, Village Voice senior news editor Wayne Barrett and Mark Hanley, the Advance’s editorial page editor, discussed media coverage — or lack thereof — of New York state government last night during a discussion sponsored by Wagner College’s Hugh L. Carey Center for Government Reform.
“We’ll get more of the same,” Hanley said. “The more they think no one’s watching, the worse it will get. It will get worse.”
Reporters joke that Albany is governed under the “Bear Mountain Compact,” because “as soon as you pass Bear Mountain on the way to Albany, all lips are sealed,” Barrett said. Hammond called former Gov. Eliot Spitzer universally reviled even by Democrats, and said the prostitution scandal that brought him down “did everybody a favor.”
Gov. David Paterson, isn’t getting special treatment by the press but has been “building up respect” among reporters. Hammond said to expect the new governor to focus on a few key issues, like addressing the budget, and added that Paterson likely will stay away from campaign-finance reform or becoming too involved helping Democrats get elected.
Barrett said some of the less-glamorous stories in state government getting short shrift could have a huge impact, such as when the Senate created a new district and increased its members from 61 to 62 in 2002 — something that has never been explained, and could likely lead to a 31-31 split after November.
“We’re going to see a deadlocked Senate and no one knows what’s going to happen. I don’t think any newspaper has (explained), why did it go to 62,” Barrett said. “It just happens, and no one notices.”
Two students involved in Wagner’s student government were in Albany speaking on behalf of increased aid to private universities the day before Spitzer resigned in shame.
“We saw all these news crews there and thought, ‘Wow, it must be like this all the time,’ ” said Michael Pinto, 19, of Huguenot. “I guess not.”