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Vacancies rob voters

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The sign still hangs above Bill Reilich's former State Assembly office on West Ridge Road. But the lights are off and calls won't be answered.

Reilich, a Republican, resigned his Assembly seat after winning the race for Greece town supervisor last year. The seat will stay vacant until Governor Andrew Cuomo calls a special election to fill it. Reilich and Greece Democratic Committee leader David Garretson say they want Cuomo to set that election as soon as possible.

"The folks in my town don't have a representative," Garretson says.

Residents of Parma and Ogden are in the same situation, since Reilich's old district, the 134th, includes those towns, too.

The seat is one of a total of 11 Assembly and Senate vacancies awaiting action by the governor. But Cuomo has been reluctant to set the special elections because new vacancies keep emerging, and he says he wants to wait for the situation to stabilize.

"If you have to do special elections, they're very expensive to do because you basically have to run a separate election, obviously," Cuomo said recently on the Capitol Pressroom radio program. "So it's not something you want to do lightly."

But leaving the seats vacant takes away residents' voices, Reilich says. Right now, that means residents of the 134th district don't have an Assembly member representing their interests during budget discussions.

It's unlikely that a special election could be held in time for a newly-elected Assembly representative to participate in budget talks. But the Legislature passes bills throughout the year.

In a recent statement, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also called on Cuomo to set the special elections.

"We have many important issues to consider and a strong democracy demands that New York conduct special elections as soon as possible in order to fill these seats," he said in the statement.

Reilich and Garretson say there is also the matter of constituent services. Representatives' offices frequently help people with a variety of issues, such as problems with unemployment checks and disability assistance.

If Cuomo is concerned about the cost of special elections, Reilich says, he could set them to coincide with the June 24 federal primary. But even that scenario is not ideal in terms of timing. The State Legislature's regular sessions ends in June.

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