As a basketball standout at Bishop Gibbons High School and Union College in Schenectady, Assemblyman James Tedisco earned a reputation as a hard-nosed player with a knack for scoring.
Now the just-elected minority leader of the Assembly is relishing his new role as coach for a team with few victories against the overwhelming Democratic majority. But Republican Tedisco, still of Schenectady, is nonetheless chucking some outside shots with the hope of a score -- including claiming significant credit for the toughened criminal penalties passed by the Legislature this week.
"We were definitely part of the pressure," Tedisco said during a stop at The Buffalo News Thursday. "We might not have gotten the death penalty, but [Speaker] Sheldon Silver didn't get all he wanted either. We really made it a safer state."
On his first swing through Western New York since succeeding Charles H. Nesbitt of Orleans County as minority leader last month, Tedisco lauded the package adopted following the killing of two New York City police officers in recent days. The new laws require mandatory sentences of life without parole for killing a police officer, while also stiffening penalties for selling or possessing illegal firearms.
Though outnumbered by Democrats 104 to 45 in recent years, Tedisco believes Assembly Republicans can prove a force for change. Following the New York City homicides, he believes their outcry forced Democrats in both houses of the Legislature to heed their cries for tougher penalties.
"We got our message out well, we made the case, and we didn't mix apples and oranges," he said. "That pressure was brought to bear on Sheldon Silver."
Part of Tedisco's efforts this week involves holding at least 45 members, including three of six vacancies slated to be filled in February or March special elections.
"Sheldon Silver would like to have 150 seats," Tedisco said of the 150-member body. "You really diminish democracy here without the loyal opposition."