Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York

By Peter J. Galie | Go to book overview

12
Constitution-Making During the Depression: The Constitutional Convention of 1938

WITH A BITTER CONTEST for the presidency between the incumbent, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York and Republican challenger Alfred Landon of Kansas, and a governor's election, the question of a constitutional convention would have failed to appear on the 1936 ballot had it not been for the provisional twenty-year requirement. The reform groups of the state had voiced little demand for a convention, mainly because they had previously achieved their major goals. Between 1915 and 1935, executive reorganization, the executive budget, and home rule for the cities had been adopted by constitutional amendments. The major political parties, neither of which included the issue in their state platforms, had other reasons for their lack of enthusiasm for a new constitution. A new constitutional convention meant a new reapportionment provision. The state legislature had been unable to agree on reapportionment since 1925, thus silently ratifying the gerrymander embodied in the 1894 Constitution. Tammany Democrats opposed any convention, as reapportionment would mean the loss of power to the outlying boroughs of New York City, and they feared modification of the single-member district system. NonTammany Democrats, in a rare display of agreement with their adversaries, were not as confident of their political position, and thus were unsure of gaining control of a convention if called two years hence. 1

Some notable individuals and groups did support the call for a convention. Democratic Governor Herbert Lehman advocated a convention, as did New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the American Labor Party, and the Citizen's Union of New York, which issued a position paper recommending a constitutional convention.

The proponents' case for a new convention can be summarized thus:

-230-

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