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Senate Democrats elect Andrea Stewart-Cousins as majority leader

ALBANY – Senate Democrats will return to the Capitol on Monday for the first time since the Election Day ouster of Republicans from control of the 63-member chamber.

The 40 incumbents and newcomers invited to the closed-door Senate Democratic meeting have as their main order of business voting for current Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins as their choice for majority leader when a new session of the Legislature begins in early January.

When she formally takes over her new post in five weeks, Stewart-Cousins will make history as the first woman to hold the top job in the Senate or Assembly and the first African-American woman as well.

“I am honored to have the support of my Senate Democratic colleagues and thanks to them we will be shattering a glass ceiling in January,’’ said Stewart-Cousins, 68, a Westchester County Democrat.

The Democratic conference went from 31 members in the current legislative session to an expected 40 in January as a result of a stunning number of Republicans losing either their current Senate jobs or Democrats picking up wins in open contests in districts that have been represented by Republicans.

Democrats have held a numerical edge in recent years but the GOP retained control by aligning with breakaway Democrats who bolted from the main Democratic conference.

“New Yorkers have continually voted for a Senate Democratic majority, and finally they’ll have it,’’ Stewart-Cousins said, vowing to give New Yorkers the “progressive leadership they deserve.’’

Senate Democrats have said they will act swiftly on a number of policy items stalled over the years by the Senate GOP, on everything from campaign finance law changes to expanded abortion rights and civil and criminal law changes pushed by victims of child sexual assaults.

The new Senate leader on Monday is not expected to announce decisions on committee assignments for Democrats, including committee chair positions that – depending on the panel – can sharply elevate a lawmaker’s influence in Albany. Those could come before or during a two-day retreat the Senate Democrats will have in mid-December in Albany.

Incoming Senate leader juggling many tasks

Hundreds of Senate Republican staffers are expected to be fired before the end of the year, from those who help the daily operations of running the Senate chamber to people in district offices. Senate Republicans who will return in January will find themselves with smaller office staffs, the loss of some perks like a driver or state-supplied car, and will be jettisoned from their positions as leaders of major and minor committees.

“We’re extremely excited about the new opportunity to take New York to new heights and to realize our potential as a state,’’ said Sen. Timothy Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat.

Kennedy will become the sole member in the new Senate majority from Western New York. The region now has five Republicans serving in the Senate majority conference.

Since the election, Democrats have gone out of their way to say upstate will be treated fairly and not suffer from the fact that so few Democratic senators represent upstate districts.

“I’m up there often and will remain interested and focused and helpful to Buffalo,’’ Stewart-Cousins recently said.

Kennedy said New Yorkers will see a different kind of leader when Stewart-Cousins takes over.

“She is just an extraordinary individual," he said. "She is genuine, she exudes kindness and graciousness and she is constantly giving back to others with her time and energy and focus and intellect. She is the consummate public servant."

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