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Tim Kennedy gets key state Senate committee post

ALBANY – A Buffalo Democrat will head a key Senate committee with jurisdiction over everything from upstate roads and bridge construction programs to the crumbling New York City subway system.

Sen. Timothy Kennedy, a South Buffalo Democrat first elected to the Senate in 2010, was awarded chairmanship of the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is set to become the new Senate majority leader when the 2019 session begins.

Democrats handily won control of the Senate from Republicans in the November elections, and Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday began to dole out the spoils that go with their new leadership status.

The Legislature's first female majority leader, Stewart-Cousins said she is making Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Krueger, a savvy lawmaker known for her sharp questioning of Senate Republicans during annual floor debates regarding state budget bills, has served as the ranking Democrat on that panel for several years.

Another key post will also go to a female Democrat: Shelly Mayer, from Westchester County, will become chair of the education committee, which oversees bills and fiscal matters affecting the state’s 900 public school districts.

Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat, tapped Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx to become the new Health Committee chair, Manhattan’s Brad Hoylman to head the Judiciary Committee and Brooklyn’s Kevin Parker to lead the Energy Committee.

With an unusually large freshman class entering the 2019 session, Stewart-Cousins turned to several new Democrats to lead committees, including Jessica Ramos of Brooklyn, a strong supporter of organized labor, to chair the Labor Committee, and Bronx Democrat Allessandra Biaggi to head the Ethics Committee.

The Senate returns with just two members of the former Independent Democratic Conference, a group that had aligned itself with the Senate GOP before breaking apart last spring. Most of the IDC members were defeated this past fall. David Carlucci, a Rockland County Democrat and ex-IDC member, got a committee chair post courtesy of Stewart-Cousins: the Mental Health Committee. Another ex-IDC founder, Diana Savino of Staten Island, did not get a committee leadership post, but was assigned to head a subcommittee on internet and technology issues.

Kennedy has been a regular critic of what he said has been at times inequitable funding of upstate transportation projects when compared to spending for downstate public transportation capital projects. His new Senate post will make him an important player in all transportation matters affecting both upstate and downstate. His first real test of power will come in March, when the state budget is being put together.

Kennedy, during a brief break during private meetings the Senate Democrats were having Tuesday in the Albany area, said he looks forward to being involved in efforts to deal with an aging infrastructure in roads, bridges and mass transportation systems across New York.

But he said one focus will be trying to address what he says is an ongoing problem of unfair transportation funding between upstate and downstate. “Transportation needs to be treated in an equitable fashion. It’s essential that Buffalo and Western New York and the rest of upstate gets our fair share of resources,’’ Kennedy said.

In another appointment, Senator-elect James Skoufis, an Orange County Democrat, was tapped to become chairman of the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee. The panel is charged with oversight of state actions “including the proactive investigation of waste, fraud and abuse.’’ He noted the panel’s subpoena power to compel testimony by witnesses.

Skoufis said New Yorkers are “rightfully frustrated with a state government that’s non-transparent and unresponsive to the basic needs of people.’’ He added, his committee is going to be “very active both legislatively and with investigations. There’s a lot of work to do.’’

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