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Remember Hochul’s LaSalle Nomination?

April 29, 2023 pm30 5:38 pm

The New York State Budget has dominated Albany reporting the last few weeks. A budget deal was reached Thursday. I’m not going to run the details – but it’s a good moment to step back.

Framing the budget as a “win” or a “loss” misses something – since last summer there’s been a major power play – Hochul vs progressives – that’s been playing out, in front of us, in real time.

Background – Cuomo, anti-progressive bully

Before Hochul, Andrew Cuomo governed by intimidation – that’s true. He was a bully. Petty, mean, made you feel his power (just like he made so many people feel his hands creeping over them). But Cuomo also governed by forging a coalition – Republicans, center (anti-progressive) Democrats, real estate developers, prosecutors. Cuomo thrived with a divided legislature – Democrats in the Assembly, Republicans in the Senate. And when Democrats won the Senate, Cuomo contrived to shift a few Democrats to ally with the Republicans to keep control in Republican hands. That’s what the IDC was.

By the time he resigned in disgrace, Cuomo was leaning heavily on real estate money and bullying. His IDC project had been thoroughly defeated. But he left us with, among other things, a court system littered with his appointees – many of them anti-defendant, anti-tenant – including a bloc of four judges who controlled the Court of Appeals (New York State’s highest court).

To think about – this can happen in New York. It really happened. But was it a fluke? New York State is very “blue” (votes Democratic). But New York State is not very progressive. The Cuomo coalition remains at least potentially viable – and is an ongoing problem for New Yorkers who want to make the state a better place.

Background – Court of Appeals

The control of the Court of Appeals is a big deal, even if most New Yorkers have never heard of any of the seven judges. And Cuomo’s four were making a mess for decent people. Aside from countless decisions in favor of big real estate interests, and against civil rights and due process, the court, the New York State Court of Appeals, Cuomo’s court – had a major role in striking down New York’s redistricting plan – which contributed to the Democrats losing four seats in NY State, and handing Republicans control of the House of Representatives in Washington. Cuomo’s court did that.

Chief Judge was Janet DiFiore, who resigned suddenly last summer, under an ethics probe. And that’s where the story begins.

DiFiore’s Replacement

Legislators and progressives approached now Governor Hochul. They did not tell her who to nominate for Chief Judge, only that it should not be a prosecutor. Bail reform may have been foremost on their minds. And image. Bail reform is a big deal – cash bail leads rich people to post bond to stay out of prison – but cash bail can leave poor people stuck in jail – which can lead to lost jobs and other hardships. It can have longterm and catastrophic consequences. It is punishment on an allegation, and on the whim of a judge. And cash bail falls disproportionately on Black and brown defendants. So the “not a prosecutor” ask was meaningful

Elections November 2022

As the elections approached, Lee Zeldin’s republican campaign, with racist dogwhistles, was gaining strength. Hochul actually turned to progressives – who she had quietly shunned – to get them to help her get out the vote. We saw AOC campaigning with the governor on the last day. Looking back, the Working Families Party seems to have helped save Hochul’s ass.

In the event, Hochul won, although a surprisingly small 6 point victory. But it was hollow. The GOP took all four Long Island house seats, and several other seats (prominently a mid-Hudson one). They would not have taken the House of Representatives back from the Democrats without their sweep in New York State.


As an immediate sop, Hochul approved a raise for law-makers. And now, having leaned on progressives to eke out a win, reputation damaged by the unimpressive vote, but feeling good about raises, she turned to the vacant chief judge of the court of appeals.


Recall, legislators had not specified who they wanted, just not a prosecutor. Certainly Hochul was thinking about that when she nominated Hector LaSalle, a former prosecutor.

The reaction was immediate, and fierce. One after another Democratic state senator declared they would be voting no in committee. The committee vote was shaping up to bad for LaSalle. And then the Democratic conference added a few new members to the Judiciary Committee – all anti-LaSalle. It looked like this one was sealed.

The opposition seized on an article about three bad LaSalle decisions: wrong on a labor issue, wrong on an abortion issue, wrong on procedure. With time more problematic decisions turned up – not a surprise. These included issues of immigration, victim’s rights, consumer rights, civil rights, and prosecutorial misconduct. And that last one was the real point: people seemed to be arguing about anecdotes – there were plenty of bad anecdotes – but they were really arguing over whether they wanted a prosecutor as chief judge.

With the Judiciary Committee opposed (confirmed by a 10 – 2 vote, with 7 not recommending) the story would have seemed to be over. Not so fast. The governor and the Republicans acted separately to bring LaSalle to a floor vote.

New York State Constitution

This section is garbage. There was a phony constitutional battle. Does the NY State Constitution say that every candidate gets a vote of the full senate, even if rejected in committee? Every single person arguing yes was actually in favor of LaSalle. Every single person arguing no was opposed to LaSalle. This is garbage. It is fake. No one believed what they were saying. Everyone just wanted to win.

However, some Republican got the case brought to a Republican judge, and it was going to go well for Hochul and LaSalle, and poorly for progressives. Before the case could be heard the NY State Senate held a quick full floor vote, and rejected LaSalle 39-20.


Hochul nominated Rowan Wilson to move from associate judge to chief judge in early April. Rowan was one of the liberal judges on the court, keeping the balance 3-3. Hochul simultaneously nominated Caitlin Halligan to be the sixth associate. Halligan will likely fall dead center, so 3-1-3. This was not what Hochul wanted – the Democrats in the Senate stopped her – but it was less than they thought was possible.

Albany watchers have noted that this was a war that Hochul chose. And if the initial choice had been a stumble, she had plenty of opportunity to undo it. Instead she went all in. And it turned out, on the nomination, to be a real loss for her. On the other hand, if her goal was to signal to the human filth that loved Cuomo that she would fight just as dirty, this might be in the longterm a win for Hochul.

Indeed, in the aftermath we learned that Michael Bloomberg is now in Kathy Hochul’s corner, with wallet open. The New York Times gives her its full-throated support. And Republicans are not speaking about her as if she were THEIR standard bearer. Seriously, let Kathy get “handsy” with a few aides and no one would know that Andrew Cuomo had ever left the Governor’s Mansion.

The Budget

I said I was not going to analyze the state budget (just concluded) but can I suggest that we look at it through a “LaSalle” lens.

There were so many items in dispute, but this story suggests that bail reform was central. I know that those who followed some other issue (lots of teachers looking at charter schools) may disagree – but bail reform is the one point that shows up in each confrontation between Hochul and the progressives, it is the connection between each of the fights.

The Bloomberg/NY Times narrative is that bail reform lost votes. That’s Hochul’s position. Lee Zeldin campaigned on it. But what the Times and Hochul and Cuomo leave out is that Zeldin’s appeal was pretty blatantly racist. Of course the Times is for ending racism, but not now. The Times is always in the “not now” crowd. Bloomberg too. Not now. Not ever.

This was the heart of the LaSalle fight, and the budget fight.

In both cases Hochul failed to defeat the progressives. But in both cases she got something. This may be a bruising few years in Albany.

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