Union in the News for December 4, 2005
Tedisco plans to play key role as minority leader
By Bob Conner - The Daily Gazette
Although he was elected Tuesday, Thursday was Jim Tedisco's first day on the job as New York State Assembly minority leader, and he was still working out of his old office near the Capitol.
The staffers there were people who have been with him for years, such as executive secretary Shirley DeMartino and Howard Becker, the former staff director and newly minted counselor to the minority leader, who was taking bites out of DeMartino's chicken salad sandwich.
They both go as far back as James N. Tedisco's first campaign for the Assembly in 1982, when he beat three other Republicans (Betty Bean, Mugsy Buhrmaster and Paul Tocker) in the primary and then bested his fellow Schenectady City Council member Dave Roberts in the general election. He succeeded Republican Clark Wemple, who retired.
Tedisco was fond of pointing out last week that he is Schenectady County's first Republican leader in the Legislature since O.D. Heck, who served as speaker from 1937 to 1951.
But he won't have anything like the power of Heck, or the current speaker, Democrat Sheldon Silver of Manhattan, or Tedisco's fellow Republican and Capital Region resident, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.
The Assembly Republicans can only muster 42 seats at the moment, although they may pick up a few that are currently vacant. They have been losing ground in recent years in this heavily Democratic state, and Silver's ranks have grown to 105, giving him a vetoproof majority.
Tedisco, though, is full of his customary fire. "Finally, I've been validated," he said about last week's unanimous vote by "the 42 people who know me best" to make him minority leader.
Tedisco sees the new post as vindicating his career, his long advocacy of governmental reform and his success - even as a minority member - in getting some version of legislation he has advocated adopted. The pay delay for legislators when budgets are late, and the "Buster bill" toughening animal cruelty penalties, both owe something to Tedisco.
As a leader, he aims to use some of the same techniques, "being imaginative in all our approaches."
Jack McEneny, a Democratic assemblyman representing Albany, said, "It's always good for the Capital Region to have your people rise."
Tedisco, obviously, has the same opinion. "As one of the leaders," he said, "I'll have access to others, and members," to get support for funding and measures to benefit his constituents.
The minority leader's job became available when Assemblyman Charles Nesbitt announced his resignation the day before Thanksgiving to take a post in the Pataki administration. That day and evening, working the phones in a Republican Party conference room below his district office at 12 Jay St. in Schenectady, Tedisco lined up enough votes from his colleagues to ensure his election.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported Nov. 24 that Nesbitt, during his tenure, worked "behind the scenes . . . to get Republicans a bigger share of money for pet projects in their districts." However, majority members still get much more.
As an assemblyman, McEneny said, "Jim plays to the gallery quite a bit," noting that the two of them disagree on criminal justice issues.
For a leader, McEneny said, the interests of his members could suffer "if the cordiality of the house is torn apart because of headlines."
Tedisco, McEneny predicts, will adapt as his predecessors as minority leader adapted. "Jim's a smart guy, a political survivor. . . . He's going to want to be effective."
Some might question the effectiveness of prior leaders who have presided over the loss of Republican seats. And some conservatives question what New York Republican leaders stand for. But Tedisco sees plenty of distinctions between the parties, and regards the current GOP debate about next year's statewide candidates as healthy.
But haven't Republicans been running up the state's debt? Only because the Assembly's Democratic majority has insisted on more spending, Tedisco said, holding up budgets until they get what they want.
Yet Tedisco said he himself gave credit to Silver earlier this year for adopting legislative reforms, some of which had long been advocated by the Republican assemblyman. And he wants more of them.
Nor is he afraid that the "more aggressive" approach he envisages the Assembly minority adopting will hurt its members. "I think we'll do better if we let the speaker know exactly where we stand," he said.
Still, the new minority leader realizes that even if he grows the minority, it will not soon become a majority. But New York could turn, he says, "a lighter shade of blue."
The speaker's office put out a statement warmly praising Nesbitt after he announced his resignation. Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for Silver, said the speaker called Tedisco to congratulate him on his election. She said "there has been significant bipartisan cooperation in the past couple of years. Among the most notable achievements were the joint efforts to reform the rules and operations of the Assembly."
Republican Assemblyman Marc Butler got a bill through the Assembly this summer regarding Fulton County assessments, despite opposition from the Office of Real Property Services. It also passed the Senate and was signed into law, and at that time Butler said the legislative environment in the Assembly has been a productive one recently.
Tedisco noted that he and Silver shared a youthful dream of becoming professional basketball players. A picture of Tedisco shooting a basketball in a Union College uniform is prominently displayed behind his desk. A short man, Tedisco was nonetheless a star for Union, and went on to get a graduate degree from the College of Saint Rose, then becoming a guidance counselor, teacher and coach.
Tedisco grew up in Rotterdam, where his 90-year-old mother still lives. He went first to Draper High School and then to Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons in Schenectady, where he graduated in 1968.
He was renting apartments until 1985, when he bought a house on Guilderland Avenue in the Bellevue neighborhood of Schenectady. Engaged twice, for the past several years he has dated Mary Song. A few years ago, she ran for mayor of Saratoga Springs, which is in Tedisco's district .
His new job will mean a raise. Assembly members make a base salary of $79,500, and the $18,000 "lulu" Tedisco was making as an assistant minority leader under Nesbitt had brought him up to $97,500. Now he will make $114,000 per year, according to Josh Hills, communications director for the Assembly minority.