Tales from the Sausage Factory

Making Laws in New York State

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Table of contents

Prologue The State Senate Scandal of 2009
1. Getting the Job and Starting It: Politics, Ethics, Values
2. What Counts When Legislators Decide
3. How Things Work
4. Playing by the Rules, and Changing Them
5. The Organized Crime Control Act
6. Getting Into the Prisons and Drugs Business
7. Reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws
8. Beating the Leadership, Winning in the Courts: Sex Offenders and Megan’s Law
9. Guns—The Struggle in the Legislature and Courts
10. Life in the Legislature: Politics and Lawmaking
11. The New York State Legislature—On Balance
Index of Names
Subject Index
Index of Cases

A former state legislator and a political scientist team up to show how New York's legislature was once the nation's model professional legislature, and how it might recover from its present dysfunction.


"Laws are like sausages," Otto von Bismarck is said to have remarked. "It is better not to see them being made. " Even among sausage factories, New York State's legislature is notoriously dysfunctional, but as Tales from the Sausage Factory reminds us, this was not always the case. Indeed, in the early 1980s, New York's legislature was a model of professionalism. Cowritten by former state legislator Daniel Feldman and political scientist Gerald Benjamin, Tales from the Sausage Factory offers an up-close look at how law and public policy are made in New York State. Drawing on Feldman's experiences as a member of the New York State Assembly from 1981 to 1998, the book focuses on four major battles over public safety policy in the 1980s and 1990s—organized crime control, the Rockefeller drug laws, sex offender notification, and gun control. Not afraid to name names along the way, Feldman and Benjamin show how politics works in New York State and how major public policy questions are decided (both in the legislature and the courts), as well as how New York's legislature might rise above its present dysfunction to recover the professionalism it once had. At a time when frustration with at state government is at an all-time high, Tales from the Sausage Factory is a much-needed reminder of what we can—and should—expect from our state legislators.

Daniel L. Feldman is Associate Professor of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, and was previously Special Counsel for Law and Policy to the New York State Comptroller. From 1981 to 1998, he was a member of the New York State Legislature in the 45th Assembly District. His previous books include Reforming Government and The Logic of American Government: Applying the Constitution to the Contemporary World. Gerald Benjamin is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Research, Regional Education, and Outreach at State University of New York at New Paltz. He has served as an elected member of the Ulster County legislature between 1981 and 1993, and is a 1991 recipient of the New York State/United University Professions Excellence Award. He has written or edited fourteen books or monographs as well as numerous government reports and articles.


"Feldman and Benjamin are incredibly qualified to pen any primer for the NY politics fanatic." — O-Town Scene

"…a wonderful account of life in New York's legislature … This book provides an important tool to serious reformers. Practitioners and scholars interested in understanding the current status of New York's state government will benefit from a close read of this impressive and interesting book." — Political Science Quarterly

"…this former state assemblyman's book reveals nuances of the legislative process seldom captured by scholars … for those who love politics there is much good fun, history, and valuable insight in these pages, with wonderful descriptions of political life in New York." — CHOICE

"The book will offer encouragement to those who are or hope to be participants in the political process. Change is possible, but it takes persistence and luck, and it rarely comes quickly. Tales also serves as a reminder that politics is a tricky business. Laws often have unintended consequences and change doesn't always take place in the way one expects … Tales deserves to be read by public officials, journalists, students, political activists and citizens alike." — Empire Page

"Tales from the Sausage Factory is a cogent and balanced analysis of the Legislature by two authors with impressive credentials … One of the book's strengths is how adeptly the authors use Feldman's experiences to examine forces shaping the Legislature." — Albany Times Union

"...[Tales from the Sausage Factory] … is a very good way of beginning to understand how government works. And it's written in a sort of entertaining way." — former New York State Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch

"…an unusual collaboration between Daniel L. Feldman, a Democrat who represented southern Brooklyn in the Assembly from 1981 through 1998, and Gerald Benjamin, a Republican and a political scientist … Both are pragmatists, preaching that the perfect is the enemy of the good." — New York Times

"In trying to illuminate how Albany works, the authors don't pull any punches about how years of legislators wedded to perks and promoted for rubber-stamping proposals doesn't help residents of New York, but they're optimistic about the future." — Brooklyn Daily Eagle

"…provides an insider's look at how the legislative process worked—or didn't work—in addressing such issues as gun control, organized crime, the Rockefeller drug laws and sex offender notification programs, issues in which Feldman was deeply involved." — Times Herald-Record

"Tales from the Sausage Factory is a must read for anyone interested in the Byzantine workings of the New York State government. Two of the most knowledgeable authorities on New York State government, Gerald Benjamin and Daniel Feldman, have taken on the task of telling us how it really works. Feldman, a former state legislator, and Benjamin, who has done it all and seen it all as a practitioner, professor, and pundit, really help bring it into perspective. The case studies in the book make it all accessible and understandable. I recommend this book, without reservation." — Alan Chartock, President and CEO, WAMC/Northeast Public Radio

"Those of us who have watched New York State government up close for many years often wonder how so many good ideas wind up on the scrap heap, and why so many well-intentioned legislators lose hope for meaningful progress. Two of the state's most insightful analysts of the legislature, Dan Feldman and Jerry Benjamin, answer those questions in this book. Through revealing anecdotes and careful research, they open a window into the way things go in Albany. What we see often isn't pretty, but it's fascinating—and it's important to know." — Rex Smith, Editor and Vice President, Albany Times Union

"Daniel Feldman and Gerald Benjamin deliver insider anecdotes and scholarly insights describing how the state legislature works (or doesn't). Albany veterans and political newbies alike should be fascinated." — Lise Bang-Jensen, Senior Policy Analyst, Empire Center for New York State Policy

"Dan Feldman and Jerry Benjamin's sausage tales are hot and spicy. If Albany is the nation's most dysfunctional legislature, this former assemblyman and legendary academic manage to capture how it both functions and malfunctions, taking readers inside a factory that shapes millions of lives. These are the flesh and blood, push and pull, sagas of political life in America's invisible legislative laboratory, where nuance, networking, and nonsense alternately rule." — Wayne Barrett, Village Voice

"We all seem to expect that legislatures will naturally have to juggle all sorts of balls when they try to make laws. But Feldman and Benjamin show us how everyday justice and long-term public safety are at stake in the everyday machinations that go along with the legislative process. There are no straight lines from here to there. When it comes to the production of legislative changes in crime and justice, the shortest distance between two points is a very interesting journey, indeed." — Todd R. Clear, Rutgers University

"Dan Feldman and Gerald Benjamin take us inside the mind and heart of a serious state legislator to look at one of the most notorious yet important law-making bodies in the United States. Students of politics have much to learn from the workings (and failings) of the New York legislature in the period they cover, when—for example—crime fell and imprisonment declined, a double act that continues to prove the envy of many states and nations. Tales from the Sausage Factory shows us just how twisted are the paths for legislators trying to contribute to these and other progressive trends. The book fulfills the promise of its title with its unabashed examination of how principle and ego, politics and the public good get ground together in an unappetizing process that nevertheless produces legal progress. With Gerald Benjamin's help, Dan Feldman reveals psychological and political machinations that most insiders keep hidden, a fitting capstone to his legislative accomplishments." — Christopher Stone, Harvard Kennedy School