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The New King of Queens…and Albany – QNS.com

The New King of Queens…and Albany

From the time the position of Majority Leader of the State Senate was first created following the adoption of the New York State Constitution in 1938, only one Democrat has held the Senate’s top spot. And now, there is finally a second, and the first to hail from the borough of Queens, Senator Malcolm A. Smith.
Just before midnight on the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 2008, history was made, twice. After two hundred and thirty two years of existence and just over fifty years since “separate but equal” was still the law of the land, the country had elected the first ever African-American to serve as President of the United States. On that same night, though less historic but just as significant for local politics, New Yorkers made history, electing a Democratic Majority to the State Senate for the first time in over 40 years. In doing so, it was all but assured that Malcolm Smith would become the first African-American to hold the position of Majority Leader of the State Senate.
To the casual political observer, comparing the two victories might seem like a match up of the Super Bowl and a game of ping pong. However, Smith and the Democrats’ ascension to power in the State Senate is just as significant and extraordinary if you consider the underlying history that accompanied a night full of history.
From the time of its inception, Republicans have dominated the State Senate, and until Tuesday night, it was their lone source of power in state politics. Now, the Republican Party is left without a majority in either chamber of the state government, no executive branch members and diminished representation in the United States Congress, including the loss of their only seat in New York City. What a difference a day makes.
The last Democrat to hold the position of Majority Leader was Joseph Zaretzki of the Bronx, whose reign lasted just under a year, spanning from February 1965 to December 1965. Zaretzki came to power amidst controversy following the 1964 election, when the Democrats had won control of the Senate but lost control of their own party. After more than a month of deadlock, a fractured Democratic Party was evenly divided between disciples of New York City Mayor Robert Wagner and U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy. Fearing total gridlock would cause a shutdown of state government, Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller urged Republican senators to support Wagner’s choice, Zaretzki, in one of the most contentious political battles since the days of Tammany Hall. Back in power after four decades and the Democrats have a second chance to make a first impression.
Smith has a strong reputation for fiscal responsibility and brings with him solid credentials from his years as a real estate developer and member of the Queens business community. As Minority Leader, Smith is well regarded by his colleagues as a tireless worker and respected leader capable of guiding New York in a new direction. It was under his direction that Democrats closed the gap on Republicans by winning two seats via special elections and finally overcame the difference this year, capturing a two seat majority.
Smith and the Senate Democratic Conference have committed to an ambitious agenda for the new legislative session, with their top priority focused on rebuilding the economy. With a special session scheduled for November 18th to address the growing budget gap, they will be tested from the start and are coming to power during the worst fiscal crisis in decades. However, Smith has cultivated a successful working relationship with Governor David Paterson and shown a remarkable capacity to keep the diverse members of his conference united on most key issues. His political skills will undoubtedly be put to the test if the financial forecast worsens and budget projections fall short of the anticipated levels of revenue generation.
History, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Wherever you were, whatever you were doing on Election Day, we were all privy to a vision of history we have never seen before and some thought they would never live to see. A new President and a new Majority and Leader in the State Senate both earmark the greatest and most enduring attribute of our success as a nation - change not of a political party but of people.
NEWS & NOTES:

  • In what is shaping up to be the race after the race, City Councilmember James Gennaro still has a strong possibility of unseating long-time incumbent Republican Senator Frank Padavan.
  • At the conclusion of Election Day, Padavan was clinging to a slim lead of just over 500 votes, but there are approximately 5,000 paper ballots, which have not been counted yet.
  • Gennaro is credited with running one of the most energetic campaigns in recent memory and remains in strong position to pull off a tremendous upset if the paper ballots swing the vote his way.
  • Congratulations are also in order for the two of the state’s newest senators, Joseph Addabbo Jr., and Hiram Monserrate.
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