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Everybody's keeping their fingers crossed that JetBlue Airways will be able to reach its goal of providing service to Buffalo and other upstate airports to help break the predatory pricing policies of the major airlines.

JetBlue appears to be getting the money it needs, and thanks to a bipartisan coalition of Senate and House members, they now have the regulatory pathway from the Department of Transportation to go into business.

As JetBlue President David Neeleman noted the other day, everybody benefits from lower air fares. Low fares create plenty of business for everybody, he said.

JetBlue in Buffalo is a happy story for many reasons.

One of the biggest is that the JetBlue episode provides evidence that the members of the New York State congressional delegation may find some benefit in cooperating, as in the days of old.

One element of change is the replacement of Republican Bill Paxon by Republican Rep. Tom Reynolds, late of Springville, now of Clarence. Paxon was obsessed with rebuilding the Republican Party in Congress, and with his own advancement.

Paxon made bitter enemies all through Democratic ranks, and created fissures all through the New York delegation.

Reynolds, who is every bit as much of a loyal Republican as Paxon, learned the benefits of collegiality as a leader in the State Assembly.

Because a statewide official has wider sway, an even larger reason for the brighter tone in the delegation is the replacement of Republican Sen. Al D'Amato by former Rep. Charles E. Schumer of Brooklyn.

In a word, Schumer, who had the reputation as a hard-driving partisan Democrat in the House, has had a very promising start in the Senate.

This was reflected by something that Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont blurted out at Thursday's press conference announcing the DOT clearances for JetBlue.

Jeffords looked over at Schumer, who had organized the event, and coughed up, "I didn't know this before he (Schumer) got here, but he's really a nice guy."

This is a Republican's way of saying that Schumer knows the benefits of sharing the glory in the Senate.

D'Amato was every bit as aggressive as Schumer. But D'Amato hogged the limelight, extracted quid pro quos for nearly everything he did and seemed to enjoy inflicting pain and embarrassment on those who were slow to go along with him. The delegation shattered under D'Amato's reign.

What Schumer, Jeffords, Reynolds and others did was persuade one of the busiest members of President Clinton's cabinet, Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater, to take a close, sustained look at upstate New York's massive aviation problems.

Also on board early in this effort were Reps. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, and Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport. Schumer recruited Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, and others came aboard a bit later.

Slater responded by issuing 75 precious takeoff and landing slots to JetBlue for service in New York and the Eastern seaboard. It may have been the largest allocation of takeoff and landing permits issued since 1986, when then Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole gave these slots -- once the property of the people of the United States of America -- to the major airlines.

(It was Liddy Dole's gift to the big airlines -- travelers -- that evolved into the predatory pricing plague that hit upstate New York cities and other medium-sized markets.)

LaFalce, Quinn, Reynolds and Slaughter all signed on with Schumer to back issuance of the slots.

The magnitude of this cannot be overstated.

To do this, Schumer, the delegation and Slater himself were working against the well-established grain in Congress. It is no secret that the controlling House and Senate committees, particularly the House Transportation Committee, are heavily greased financially by the big airlines.

Transportation Committee Democrats, as well as majority Republicans, get major airlines campaign vigorish. Medium-sized markets get lip service, and nothing else, from the panel's bipartisan leadership.

Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., the committee chairman, is already under investigation into whether he steered massive consultant fees from big lobbies, including Amtrak, to a longtime aide and pal, Anne Eppard.

While he's earning the reputation as "a nice guy" with some Republicans, Schumer is exhibiting another kind of toughness -- intellectual independence.

During the Kosovo crisis, when other Democrats were diving under their desks, Schumer posed a number of probing questions for the administration to answer before he would join the growing call for commitment of ground troops.

Schumer has also said that first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, a probable candidate for the Senate, should answer questions about the effects of her husband's Medicaid cuts on the state's hospitals.

And more recently, Schumer may have been the only Senate Democrat to insist that the Clinton administration release documents defending the president's extension of clemency to Puerto Rican terrorists.

It will be fascinating watching this man's Senate career unfold.

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