When does the Cecilia Tkaczyk movie come out?
Someone should make a movie, either big screen or made-for-TV, about the real life adventures of Cecilia Tkaczyk, the woman who just overcame the most herculean odds to become New York’s newest state senator. As you probably know, New York state has some very strange rules that cause one to wonder whether the Empire State actually operates as a democracy at all.
Even as we are sending the youth of America across the great oceans to fight wars that help other countries preserve democracy, we are perverting democracy right here at home. It is almost incomprehensible, but New York has rules in place which allow the leaders of both houses of the Legislature to draw the districts of their respective houses. As the young people say, “That ain’t right.” It’s like letting Steinbrenner umpire the Yankee games. Put another way, “The fix is in.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo ran for office promising to put a stop to that practice. He said he would veto any reapportionment bill that did not stipulate that an outside group (maybe judges, maybe professors, maybe a mix) would draw the constitutionally mandated districts. However, lo and behold, once the young governor won his election, based in part on that pledge, he went back on his word.
The late Mayor Ed Koch insisted that legislators sign a pledge to do the process fairly and most agreed to sign. I asked the mayor what he would do if the governor and others went back on their word, and he said in his characteristic ebullient fashion that he would yell, “Liar, liar pants on fire!” Well, predictably, they double-crossed him.
That’s where Cecilia (CeCe) Tkaczyk (pronounced “CAT-chick”) comes in. I first met her when Liz “The Good” Krueger (the bad one is in jail) brought CeCe to public radio. She was running for the state Senate from her upstate New York district, one that was designed for a particular Republican Assemblyman, George Amedore, to win. The Republicans who drew the lines actually thought he couldn’t lose.
So there was CeCe sitting next to me getting interviewed. She raises a rare breed of sheep for a living! She sat on the local Board of Education and her name had so many consonants and so few vowels that nobody could pronounce it. I really liked her but I thought that this was a kamikaze mission if ever I saw one.
She made great sense. She was quietly articulate and she did not engage in political double talk. She talked about how the children of New York were being short changed. She talked about the dirty politics of New York state and her absolute commitment to a campaign finance bill that would even up the playing field. In fact, two liberal funders put some big money into her campaign once the numbers looked like she might actually pull it off.
So we had the election and the results were very close. The way I see it, the Republicans tried to steal it. They brought the contested ballots to a Republican judge who told the Democrats that they had fallen short by a handful of votes. But our CeCe brought it to the Appellate Division who reversed the local Republican judge and ordered that many more ballots get counted. Once all was said and done, CeCe Tkaczyk was elected but not before the Republican Senate declared the Republican Amedore seated. So in the end, the lady who no one (including me) thought could win prevailed.
Every once in a while, despite terrible inside political deals, the right thing happens. One courageous woman said she could win and damned if she didn’t. Like I say, “When does the movie come out?” Inspirational, I tell you.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/11/13