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GAUGHAN UNWAVERING IN QUEST TO HAVE STATE CONVENTION HERE

Hamburg lawyer Kevin P. Gaughan is serious in his attempt to have the proposed State Constitutional Convention held in Buffalo instead of Albany.

Still, he did not seem the slightest bit put off when his idea was greeted by a curious mixture of laughter and polite applause from members of Greater Buffalo Area League of Women Voters during a luncheon Monday.

The League's state chapter has gone on record in opposition to the idea of a convention to consider changes in the State Constitution -- that is, at least under the current delegate selection process.

"If the delegate selection process is not changed, what difference does it make where the convention is held?" asked Joan Photiadis, a member the Buffalo area League of Women Voters.

The League of Women Voters and a coalition of 68 other organizations have urged that the proposal be defeated by voters statewide when it appears on the ballot Nov. 4. Opponents fear such a convention would be dominated by elected officials and special-interest groups that already exert undue influence in Albany.

But Gaughan, one of the organizers of the recent Chautauqua conference on regionalism, said he had an "epiphany-like experience" after reviewing the 50,000-word document recently. New York state deserves much better than what's currently contained in 103-year old document to carry it into the 21st century, he said.

"There are risks inherent," he conceded, "but you have to weigh it against the opportunity to restore some home rule to our regions."

A constitutional convention, Gaughan said, would aid in dismantling barriers to building a strong region, economically and otherwise.

Holding the convention in Buffalo, would ensure not only that the region's economic plight would be in the spotlight, but it would ensure that the convention is not tainted by big-money interests prevalent in Albany, he said.

While the law requires that convention delegates convene in Albany, Gaughan said, it doesn't mean they must stay there. He suggested that the delegates could convene in Albany, recess and travel to upstate communities, where local and regional concerns would be aired before reconvening in Buffalo "where we could keep an eye on them."

Frank Mauro, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a progressive, Albany-based think-tank, was not at Monday's luncheon, but he, too, is against a constitutional convention. Mauro holds the League's position that the delegate selection process must be reformed first.

The process to elect the 198 delegates to the convention is "too expensive and submerges minority voting power," Mauro said.

While he supports more public involvement in the convention, Gaughan's proposal would still incur great expense, Mauro added.

"Their cost estimates assume no money for a public involvement campaign, when, really, what Kevin is thinking of is an aggressive public involvement campaign. And you can't do that for free," he said.

Robert Schultz of the "We, the People Congress," a citizen activist group in support of a constitutional convention, insisted the convention doesn't have to be held in either Buffalo or Albany.

"With today's technology, I favor the notion of (delegates) having meetings at night and being hooked together electronically through teleconferencing. That way, people from all corners of the state could be delegates," he said.

The last constitutional convention held in 1967 cost about $100 million, and all reforms to come out of that convention were defeated by voters in a subsequent referendum.

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