NEW YORK NURSE: April 2008
March 10, 2008, started out as an ordinary Monday at the State Capitol. But by noon, the entire landscape had shifted as word spread that Gov. Eliot Spitzer had been identified as a client of a prostitution ring.
A week later, Spitzer resigned from office and Lt. Gov. David Paterson was sworn in as the state’s 55th governor. Gov. Paterson served for many years as a State Senator from Harlem. He also served as Senate Minority Leader and was the most powerful Democrat in the Republican-dominated Senate.
As has been widely reported, Gov. Paterson is the first black American to serve as New York Governor, as well as the first legally blind person to hold that office.
But how are things different in Albany now? How are they the same? And how will having a new man in the governor’s office affect NYSNA’s legislative agenda?
For answers to these questions, we went to Shaun Flynn, director of the NYSNA Governmental Affairs Department, who has been lobbying for years on behalf of nursing issues.
What was the mood at the Capitol when the news broke on March 10?
On that day and for days afterward, the general mood was shock. The relationship between Spitzer and Senator Majority Leader Joe Bruno had been bad and there were a lot of issues surrounding that. But this was completely unexpected. Albany has had its share of scandals in the past, but everyone was totally surprised by this.
What changes do you expect with David Paterson as governor?
In the near term, I don’t expect a big change. Paterson was as surprised by this as everyone else and had no transition plan. In the long term, he will want to put his own touch on state government. With nearly three years left in the term, he’ll have ample time to do that.
Do we know Gov. Paterson’s position on nursing issues?
We met with him regularly when he was Senate Minority Leader. He was very supportive of our agenda. He spoke out against mandatory overtime at a nurses’ union rally in 2006, when he was running for lieutenant governor. He has also supported budget allocations for nursing education and has a good understanding of the issues surrounding nursing practice.
Will it be politics as usual, then?
Well, this is an election year for state legislators. Gov. Paterson was the architect of the plan for Democrats to take over the State Senate, and although he doesn’t have Spitzer’s combative style, he certainly has the same goal. In any election year, state lawmakers know that the eyes of all New Yorkers are on them. The scrutiny will be even greater this year. Now, more than ever, our members should hold their legislators accountable for their action or inaction on nursing issues.
Will you be meeting soon with the new governor and his staff?
We’re planning to meet with him. The transition was so unexpected, it may be a while before groups start meeting with him, but we will make it a top priority. When he was lieutenant governor, David Paterson had a very limited role in policy development. Many groups haven’t met with him in over a year. Now there will be all kinds of interests clamoring to get his ear.
Will a new governor require a change in strategy for you?
No, we’re where we need to be at this point in the session and the governor should not affect that. Politics is a very unpredictable business – a radical change can occur every two years, or even sooner. Some groups took Gov. Paterson for granted when he was minority leader and those groups may struggle now to form a relationship with him. We don’t take anyone for granted – we meet regularly with members of both parties in both houses of the State Legislature so they know about the issues that are important to nurses.