A Wild January In Albany Politics And Government
The 246th legislative session kicked off with the final race being decided on January 4, the first day of session, by a mere 15 votes with a six-year incumbent, Queens Assembly Democrat Stacey Pheffer Amato, besting a freshman candidate, Republican Thomas Sullivan. Another Assembly race, between Democrat Chris Eachus and Republican Kathryn Luciani, was decided by a mere eight votes in an open seat, and flipped the seat from Republican to Democrat. This was the only seat where a Democrat flipped a Republican seat. Six Republicans flipped previously held Democrat seats.
Everyone likes a good comeback story. An Assembly race between Long Island Republican Brian Curran and Democrat Judy Griffin saw Curran come back to win a seat he once held for seven years (2011 to 2018). Five years after losing his seat to Griffin, Curran came back in November to defeat Griffin by 138 votes.
In another strange twist, one-time Democrat and former Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny switched to the Republican party and handily defeated incumbent Democrat Mathylde Frontus by close to 800 votes, or three percentage points. The Assembly Democrats were also shaken by the defeat of three longtime incumbents.
One of those contests saw the defeat of a 36-year incumbent Democrat by an Asian-American Republican, Lester Chang. Feeling the sting of this defeat, Democrats tried to oust Chang by putting him through an exhaustive hearing by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Democrats objected to Chang having a rent-regulated primary residence in Manhattan while claiming to have a residence in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn for the purpose of voting. Chang did not change his residency until after the deadline for such a move. The Democrats threatened to oust him from his seat, but thought better of it for fear of angering members of the Asian community and Orthodox Jews in Borough Park, which is included in the boundary lines for the district. The matter was referred to law enforcement for advice and direction on Chang’s legislative future. Ironically, Chang could not vote for himself because Midwood is not in his Assembly district; he plans to move into the district shortly.
In the 150-member Assembly, 53 are female – three Republicans and 50 Democrats – the largest number of female members ever recorded. The Assembly includes 45 male Republicans and 52 male Democrats. Of the 24 freshman lawmakers, 13 are Republicans and 11 are Democrats. The median age for members is 53.4 years old. Assemblymembers spend an average of 7.55 years in office, according to data compiled by The Jewish Press.
Also included are members from 23 different countries and a record number of 28 Jews in the lower house, 18 Democrats and five Republicans. Of the 28 Jewish members, four are Orthodox. In the 150-member Assembly, 48 are Republican and 102 are Democrats, giving the Democrats a slim two-vote supermajority needed in case an override of a gubernatorial veto is necessary.
In the state Senate there was one close race, in which incumbent Democrat John Mannion defeated first-time challenger Rebecca Shiroff, a Jewish Republican, by a mere 10 votes.
The year began with the swearing-in of six freshman Senate Democrats and eight newly-minted Senate Republicans. Four Republicans flipped seats held by Democrats. Only one Democrat flipped a seat held by a Republican. The state Senate now includes 18 male Republicans and 24 male Democrats, with three Republican women and 18 female Democrats. Among the lawmakers are those claiming foreign ancestry from 21 different countries.
There are five Jews in the Senate, all Democrats. The median age of all 63 senators is 52.6 years, the youngest group of senators in recent history. The median term of the senators is 6.2 years. In all, the 42 Democrats and 21 Republicans give the Democrats a slim one-vote supermajority that could override any gubernatorial veto.
While there was once a call for term limits to be imposed on state lawmakers, that noise has been muted with lawmakers’ seats now rarely reaching more than a decade.
While the Assembly Judiciary Committee tackled the Chang quandary, the Senate Judiciary Committee took on the thorny confirmation hearing of gubernatorial nominee Hector LaSalle as the next chief judge of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. At the end of the day, Democrats added four new members to the committee on the first day of session – three Democrats and one Republican – to quash the nominee from moving to the full Senate for a vote. LaSalle’s nomination failed in committee by one vote, 10 to 9, with no recommendation to move the gubernatorial pick for a vote by the full Senate. Republicans favored LaSalle and Democrats mostly thought LaSalle was a “nice guy but too conservative” for their taste based on previous votes.
The Anti-Defamation League Seizes the Moment
This month also saw the celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. showcased on several different platforms. The Anti-Defamation League chose to demonstrate its appreciation for Dr. King with programs about Black-Jewish relations, talking about all hate, not just antisemitism.
One such program was held at Siena College, based on Franciscan and Catholic intellectual traditions, located in the Albany suburb of Loudonville. The featured speaker at the college’s eighth annual STOP [Students Together Opposing Prejudice] conference was Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado. The conference was attended by Capital Region middle and high school students on Friday, January 13.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for students from schools that are participating in the ADL ‘No Place for Hate’ program to come together to celebrate civil rights, celebrate Martin Luther King’s legacy, and in this particular case we switched out the different aspects of civil rights and put it to songs composed by the students,” Scott Richman, the ADL Regional Director to New York and New Jersey, told The Jewish Press. “We talked about how the students can write their own songs about the issues that are important to them and passionate about. At the end of the day, it was about students realizing that they can make a difference for tomorrow and getting in touch with what they are passionate about and thinking about how to make a difference. This was about all forms of hate, and antisemitism is one form of hate.”
Richman said we all have to be united to effectively fight hatred.
“We need to fight antisemitism, but in order to fight antisemitism we need to fight all forms of hate. We don’t live in a vacuum. You can’t fight antisemitism alone, you have to fight all forms of hate,” Richman said. “We realize you just can’t speak out about antisemitism; you have to be allied. If you want them to come to you to help fight antisemitism you have to be there for others with acts of racism against the Black community, attacks against the AAPI [Asian American-Pacific Islanders] community. We’re very much allied when it comes to those other issues. They have their own organizations to take the lead when it comes to issues of hate in their community but we’re very much allied.”
Delgado spoke about his personal experiences and the connection between music and the civil rights movement. After receiving a law degree from Harvard and before moving into a career in politics, Delgado spent six years trying to make it as a hip-hop artist in California. This was the first time Delgado spoke at length publicly about his hip-hop days and what it meant in his life journey.
“What inspired me to get involved in hip-hop music is not what you hear on commercial radio. What inspired me is understanding where I came from and the history of the culture,” Delgado, 46, told the students. “It is a culture with principles, peace, love, unity and having fun. It came from a community that was being overlooked, undervalued and unseen. You go back to the history of the culture; you had break dancers on street corners and cardboard boxes. Why? To be seen, to be heard, to be understood.”
Delgado also spoke to the students about how love conquers hate.
“Dr. King led with love. That’s what made him so special. He was genuinely, deeply, profoundly committed to this idea that love can overcome all things. He would stand face to face with hate, eye to eye with hate and all its vitriol, all its hostility and he would stand there in peace and calm hoping that. He changed the world because he led with love. To lead with love, you have to believe in it,” Delgado said. “Dr. King said this. Oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tide of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued a self-defeating path of hate. Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damage of death and evil. Therefore, the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”
All this and more happened in January, and the governor has yet to release her budget proposal. By law, she has until the first of February to make that happen.