Failed State

Dysfunction and Corruption in an American Statehouse

By Seymour P. Lachman
With Robert Polner

Subjects: New York State Government, Political Science, Politics
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Hardcover : 9781438465739, 270 pages, April 2017

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Table of contents


1. When Poetry Met Prose

2. Son of Immigrant Parents

3. A Can of Worms

4. Like a Meeting of the Supreme Soviet

5. In a Lofty Place

6. The Great Gerrymander

7. Lobbyists and Legislators Gone Wild

8. The Overcoat Development Corporation

9. Other People’s Money

10. The Road to Reforming a Failed State

Selected Bibliography

Shines a light on the dark corners of New York’s legislature and points the way to much-needed reform.


Failed State is both an original account of a state legislature in urgent need of reform and a call to action for those who would fix it. Drawing on his experiences both in and out of state government, former New York State senator Seymour P. Lachman reveals and explores Albany's hush-hush, top-down processes, illuminating the hidden, secretive corners where the state assembly and state senate conduct the people's business and spend public money. Part memoir and part exposé, Failed State is a revision of and follow-up to Three Men in a Room, published in 2006. The focus of the original book was the injury to democratic governance that arises when three individuals—governor, senate majority leader, and assembly speaker—tightly control one of the country's largest and most powerful state governments. Expanding on events that have occurred in the decade since the original book's publication, Failed State shows how this scenario has given way to widespread corruption, among them the convictions of two men in the room—the senate and assembly leaders—as well as a number of other state lawmakers. All chapters have been revised and expanded, new chapters have been added, and the final chapter charts a path to durable reform that would change New York's state government from its present-day status as a national disgrace to a model of transparent, more effective state politics and governance.

Seymour P. Lachman is the Founding Director of the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College, where he is also Dean Emeritus and Distinguished University Professor Emeritus. A Democrat from Brooklyn, he served in the New York State Senate from 1996 through 2004 and is the author of Mr. New York: Lew Rudin and His Love for the City. Robert Polner is a Public Affairs Officer at New York University, and while working on this book was also Senior Research Fellow for the Carey Institute. Together Lachman and Polner are the coauthors of The Man Who Saved New York: Hugh Carey and the Great Fiscal Crisis of 1975, also published by SUNY Press.


"In his book, Lachman meticulously explains how the wheels turn in Albany, where those who go along get plum committee assignments and extra money for their districts … The juicy details are all there." — Our Town

"...argue[s] convincingly that New York's Constitution is so riddled with anachronisms and has been so circumvented by legislative exceptions that it finally needs to be overhauled." — New York Times

"Three Men in a Room was an important book when it came out over a decade ago, and sadly little has changed since then. In the context of high-level corruption convictions and the ongoing investigations by the US attorney's office, Failed State reminds us just how much needs to be done, and offers constructive recommendations about the kind of reform we so desperately need in Albany." — Senator Liz Krueger, 28th New York State Senate District

"We've all heard that Albany's a mess, that there's too much bad politics and sometimes corruption in the legislature. It's all true. How can that be? Are there any voices crying out 'to do it right'? Seymour Lachman's Failed State takes you on a personal journey that explains how and why it can be that bad, as he discovers exactly what a lonely voice trying 'to do it right' can do—and what it can't. This is a 'read it and weep' book by a principled man who was a legislator for close to a decade. But better than weeping, read it—and do something." — Peter C. Goldmark Jr., former New York State Budget Director and President of the Rockefeller Foundation

"In Failed State Seymour Lachman provides a bird's-eye view into how New York's state legislature works—and doesn't work. Coupled with his extensive historical review, as a former legislator Lachman offers deep insights into what's wrong with Albany and helps make the case for fundamental changes. His sweeping analysis lays a foundation to make New York government more responsive to the public it purports to serve. For all New Yorkers looking to better understand their state government, Failed State is a must read." — Blair Horner, Executive Director, New York Public Interest Research Group

"Seymour Lachman writes about Albany dysfunction as only an insider can. He knows firsthand what it is to be bullied and extorted by political bosses, to have to cast votes on massive, secretly negotiated budget deals on a few hours' notice, to be the target of nakedly partisan gerrymandering, and to watch a parade of his colleagues go to prison for corruption. Failed State vividly documents a sordid era of New York history and provides a practical guide to real reform." — Bill Hammond, The Empire Center

"The unifying theme here is that New York State government is broken and is not likely to mend itself. Lachman proposes a number of reforms that he believes will restore democracy—among them, the holding of a constitutional convention, which New Yorkers will vote on in November 2017. Timely and valuable, Failed State will help voters understand what the stakes are when making that decision." — Peter J. Galie, coeditor of New York's Broken Constitution: The Governance Crisis and the Path to Renewed Greatness

Praise for Three Men in a Room

"Startling: a political book that actually informs the public." — Jimmy Breslin

"Three Men in a Room is a perceptive account of a state legislature in urgent need of reform, and of how to accomplish it. Senator Lachman had a front-row seat in Albany, as I once did. He also brings years of academic experience to this compelling and important book. Read it and take it seriously—for democracy's sake." — Hugh L. Carey, New York State Governor (1975–1983)

"Required reading for any New Yorker who wants to understand what's gone wrong in Albany—and why. This book provides an invaluable dissection of Albany's dysfunction from the perspective of an idealistic insider who emerged from the experience with his principles and credibility intact." — Edmund J. McMahon Jr., Director, Empire Center for New York State Policy

"Both edifying and horrifying: Lachman's privileged perspective on New York's legislative practices is essential reading for would-be reformers." — Artvoice