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Editorial: WNY needs Peoples-Stokes to ascend to Assembly leadership post

On the better-than-good chance that state Democratic Assembly members re-nominate Speaker Carl Heastie to his post, he should make it his first order of business to select Crystal Peoples-Stokes as majority leader.

It would be a boon for Buffalo, Western New York and all of upstate to have the Buffalo assemblywoman in this position of power, influence and potential financial benefit. Her ascension to the post is especially important as a counterweight to the pressure of downstate legislators, whose sheer numbers in the 150-member Assembly can place a heavy thumb on the political scale.

If chosen as majority leader — making her second only to the speaker — it will be imperative that Peoples-Stokes stands as the bulwark against colleagues who might otherwise funnel unwarranted taxpayer dollars into downstate coffers, leaving too little for upstate.

Peoples-Stokes will give voice to upstate and Western New York concerns, which will be critical after this month's elections gave Democrats the majority in the Senate. That shift of power away from Republicans created a loss of majority representation for this region, which declined from five majority members with the GOP in power to a lone Democrat. Peoples-Stokes would be a powerful teammate to Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo.

Since her election to represent the 141st District in the Assembly in 2002, Peoples-Stokes has built a reputation as an effective leader. She is also smart and no-nonsense. The 130,000 residents in her district — 60 percent African-American — recently returned her to office with an overwhelming 86 percent of the votes in her favor. She serves her district effectively.

She can adeptly handle the number of duties associated with the larger role: keeping the Assembly running in an orderly manner; rounding up tardy lawmakers; ensuring there are enough majority members on the floor to pass a bill without the help of the GOP; and scheduling floor debates when bills are being considered.

As News Albany bureau chief Tom Precious wrote, the majority leader is “part politician, part psychologist, part air traffic controller and partly a warm blanket for legislators who can get upset about not getting their way.” That takes skill and respect. Peoples-Stokes has learned the former and earned the latter.

But there is much more to recommend Peoples-Stokes, including her experience and ability to navigate Albany politics deftly. That will play to upstate’s advantage.

Paul Tokasz, a former Cheektowaga-based Assembly member who served as majority leader from 2001 to 2006, spoke about the “huge advantage for Western New York and the region.” He also described the expansive role he played from successfully pushing a strategic growth program at the University at Buffalo to having a large role in increased state funds to schools in his districts and cultural organizations throughout the area.

And there are broader political concerns in which the majority leader is a contributor to the ongoing discussions and debates. Peoples-Stokes should be in the room helping to make those decisions.

Heastie put it best in a mid-October interview with The Buffalo News: “She’s an outstanding member, very capable, and represents Western New York well.” She would do equally well as majority leader. The region’s legislative delegation and other prominent leaders should push hard for her appointment.

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