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New York voters nix constitutional convention, vote to reform pensions

New York voters did the conventional thing Tuesday, voting down a referendum calling for a state constitutional convention, just as they did 20 years ago and 20 years before that.

The latest proposal to redraw state government through a constitutional convention failed by a wide margin. With 77 percent of precincts reporting, the measure trailed, 28.3 percent to 71.7 percent against.

Meanwhile, voters considered two other statewide referendums:

• They voted, by a margin of more than two to one, to allow judges to reduce or take away the state pensions of government officials who have been convicted of crimes while in office.

• Voters appeared ready to approve a referendum that would allow the state to create a 250-acre land bank in the Adirondacks and the Catskills while giving local communities more flexibility in making infrastructure improvements. That referendum had a 2.6 point lead with 77 percent of precincts reporting.

[Erie County Election Results 2017]

The constitutional convention attracted the most attention among the three proposals.

While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and much of the Albany establishment opposed the measure, many good-government types said a constitutional convention would be the best way to break down institutional corruption in Albany by forcing changes in campaign finance and ethics laws that state legislature would never approve.

"The defeat of the Constitutional Convention is a triumph for all of the enemies of reform in Albany: Andrew Cuomo, the political bosses in the State Legislature and the lobbyists and special interests who thrive in New York's pay for play culture of corruption," said Bill Samuels, founder of NY People's Convention, which supported the referendum.

Supporters of the constitutional convention faced a strange-bedfellows collection of opponents.

Both Planned Parenthood and New York State Right to Life opposed the referendum, fearing changes in abortion law that would not be to their liking. Gun rights groups opposed it, fearing new constitutional provisions limiting gun rights.

Most importantly, public employee unions fought the proposal and invested heavily to defeat it, arguing that a constitutional convention could endanger public service pensions.

"Do not let politically connected delegates, backed by anti-union billionaires, rewrite the document that guarantees your most basic rights," Andy Pallotta, president of the New York State United Teachers, told union members before the vote.

The New York constitution calls for a referendum on a constitutional convention every 20 years and when the State Legislature calls for one. Voters have not approved such a referendum since the mid-1960s.

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