Retirements, redistricting to change face of Legislature
CAPITAL REGION New faces, parties and perspectives will be representing a large swath of the Capital Region in the state Legislature next session.
Election Day was a big shake up, with a handful of current legislators elected into new areas because of redistricting, and six freshman legislators voted into office.
Among the new faces will be the winner of the 46th Senate District race between Republican Assemblyman George Amedore and Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk, which won’t be decided for weeks and could impact the control of the body.
The largest overhaul was in the Assembly, where there were three seats in the Albany County area vacated by long-time representatives.
“We just lost a ton of seniority,” said Sherman Jewett, a partner in the Blue & Red political consulting firm.
The three seats were represented by Assembly members Ron Canestrari, D-Cohoes, Jack McEneny, D-Albany, and Bob Reilly, D-Colonie. Jewett said that with the loss of Canestrari, who was the Assembly majority leader, “There will be a loss of some clout.”
That clout can deliver state money to local schools and governments, move along the passage of a bill and determine committee chairmanships or leadership positions.
However, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said he’s not worried about the loss of seniority, arguing that the Assembly leadership is always open to good ideas and characterizing the new representatives as a long-term investment for future leadership posts.
The replacements for these three seats are Democrats John McDonald, Patricia Fahy and Phil Steck. McDonald’s district includes Troy, Cohoes and Waterford; Fahy is in the city of Albany and southeast suburbs; and Steck represents Colonie, Niskayuna and part of the city of Schenectady.
“It’s new faces, but for the most part all of these new faces will be voting much the same way as their predecessors,” Jewett said.
change of focus
That doesn’t mean the new legislators will emphasize the same issues. For instance, Jewett predicted that Fahy’s education background would make her a key player on these issues in the Assembly.
McCarthy is looking forward to changes. He noted the business background of McDonald, who owns a pharmacy, the legal expertise of Steck, who practices labor and civil rights law, and the engineering training of Democrat Angelo Santabarbara, elected to the Assembly seat vacated by Amedore. That district includes Montgomery County and part of the city of Schenectady.
“I’m also optimistic that you have three freshmen from the Capital District who ... have a common career path in local government,” said McCarthy, referring to the legislators’ city and county experiences.
McCarthy said those backgrounds will ensure the state has a better understanding of what municipalities are dealing with, particularly when it comes to budgeting for unfunded mandates. For example, he noted that the state has addressed the local property tax problem with a tax cap, but hasn’t come up with any relief from the regulations and mandates required of local governments.
Steck and Santabarbara also represent a big change for the city of Schenectady, which for the first time in decades will have complete representation by Democrats, the Assembly’s majority party. Jewett said this reality isn’t something voters say they care about, but in reality it is an important benefit for constituents.
Replacing Republican Amedore with Democrat Santabarbara will likely improve efficiency; Amedore had just five of his 30 bills become law in the past two years, according to government watchdog New York StateWatch.
“How much [he gets done], is up to how active and how well Santabarbara works with his colleagues,” said Jewett.
The reverse example would be in Clifton Park and Halfmoon, which lost Democrat Reilly's district because of redistricting and gained Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville. Tedisco had one more bill become law in the last two years than Reilly, but the retiring Democrat was able to almost single-handedly lead an opposition against the legalization of mixed martial arts and chaired his own committee.
For members of the minority to be effective, Tedisco has maintained that they just need good ideas. He points to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democratic legislators championing some of his causes, such as paperless legislation and dangerous-driving regulations, as evidence of a minority member getting things done.
In the city of Saratoga Springs, which lost Tedisco and gained Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, because of redistricting, Jewett said he doesn’t expect much of a change. This has been echoed by Jordan, who has represented nearby areas and is confident he can advocate for the city as well as his predecessor.
Recently retired Saratoga County Committee Chairman Jasper Nolan said he has faith in Jordan’s ability to represent Saratoga Springs with the same fervor as Tedisco.
The major unknown for the Capital Region is who will represent the newly created 46th Senate District, which includes all or parts of Montgomery, Schenectady and Albany counties. Whoever wins will be new, with Montgomery and Schenectady counties previously being covered by long-timer Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Albany County being represented by Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar.
More important, the winner of this seat could determine which party controls the chamber, depending on the outcomes of a few other tight races and internal partisan politics. The chamber is currently controlled by Republicans with a four-seat edge, but the Democrats have already swung at least one seat and three more are in play, including the 46th District. If all these seats break for the Democrats they’ll have a 33 to 30 majority in the now 63-seat chamber.
“The difference between a Republican majority in the Senate and a Democratic majority in the Senate has a real impact,” said Jewett, referring to legislative priorities and distributing aid.
This could mean starkly different roles for Senator Farley, Breslin and the newly minted Sen.-elect Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon. Jewett said Farley and Breslin have already demonstrated their ability to serve in the minority, but said it’s unknown how Marchione would perform.
One of the challenges for Marchione, who has served as the Saratoga County Clerk for 15 years, could be blending into a body where she is one of 63 members, instead of overseeing a department where she could call the shots.
“You could make the case there is an executive skill set and mindset and a legislative skill set and mindset ... and crossing over can sometimes be problematic,” said Jewett. “Some don’t deal with the transition well.”
Nolan argued that Marchione will be well suited for the dynamics of the Senate because of her time on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, when she was the supervisor for the town of Halfmoon.