Academic journal article Afro-Americans in New York Life and History

The New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus, 1970-1988

Academic journal article Afro-Americans in New York Life and History

The New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus, 1970-1988

Article excerpt

The New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus, 1970-1988

INTRODUCTION

Little scholarly attention has been devoted to individual American state legislatures. The amount, as well as, quality of scholarship certainly pales in comparison to the literature devoted to the Congress. Even less attention has been given to the nature of minority participation in American state legislatures. This is due partly because state minority caucuses are for the most part new, informal, low in prestige and visibility, and short on influence. However, as conditions for ethnic and racial minorities have worsened and state legislatures are granted more power (by Congress and the Supreme Court), state minority caucuses have become increasingly important. State legislatures make thousands of decisions each year affecting every aspect of America's bounty-jobs, education, health care, family relations and the like. Consequently, the importance of minority caucuses should be evident.

The New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus has the distinction of being the first(2) minority state legislative caucus founded, yet it has received no scholarly attention. This paper seeks to fill that glaring void. This essay will attempt to provide insight into; the birth of the New York State Black and Puerto Rican legislative Caucus, the nature of its membership, sponsored activities and institutional power positions held by Caucus members during the period, 1970-1988. The analysis concludes with a discussion of the Caucus' legislative policy making accomplishments and pitfalls of which there are many. This is not a policy paper. It does not focus directly on the substantive impact of the New York State Black and Puerto Rican legislative Caucus. Rather, this paper provides a descriptive analysis of the underpinnings of minority legislative participation in New York during a nineteen year period.

THE NEW YORK STATE LEGISLATURE

The Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus operates within the New York State legislature. The New York legislature consists of 211 members. As is the case with other state legislatures, the New York state legislature is a bicameral institution. The House of Delegates consists of 150 assembly districts while the Senate has 61 districts. Each legislator must be a U.S. citizen; a resident of New York state for at least five years; and reside in the district that he/she plans to represent for a minimum of one year preceding the election. Members are elected every two years. In the early 1970's the legislature established district offices so legislators would be able to receive and respond to constituency requests. The legislative body holds an annual regular session that convenes on the Wednesday after the first Monday in January and closes when all business has been completed. In recent years sessions have concluded in early July. This is a stark contrast to the 1950s when the legislature met for a considerably shorter period- approximately one hundred days a year.

The Governor heads the New York State executive branch of the government. The state Senate and the Assembly are the two houses that make up the legislative branch. New York presently enjoys a strong two party system. Upstate New York and New York City represent different factions in one of the political divisions that often characterize New York politics. This conflict reflects a long-standing political hostility that upstate New Yorkers often express towards New York City dwellers. New York City is often regarded as "different." This sense of difference was re-enforced in the late 1800s when New York City was flooded with immigrants. A common perception was that these immigrants were "different" and ill prepared to make intelligent and informed decisions. The Democratic Tammany Hall machine with its strong base among ethnics further convinced Republicans upstate that New York City politicians were not to be trusted. Generally Democrats dominate New York City while Republicans control upstate New York. …

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