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Editorial: Peoples-Stokes' rise to Albany leadership assures WNY seat at the table

Crystal Peoples-Stokes, one of Western New York’s own, has been appointed majority leader of the New York State Assembly, the Assembly’s No. 2 position. That is good for Buffalo and good for all of upstate.

For decades, the Assembly speaker has been from New York City and the majority leader from upstate. The last local leader to have the job was Paul Tokasz, a former assembly member from Cheektowaga, who was majority leader from 2001 to 2006. It is good to have Buffalo in a position of clout again.

The speaker appoints the majority leader, but the position has real influence. The speaker leads the Assembly, negotiates with the governor and the Senate and essentially decides what will pass the Assembly. The majority leader wrangles the majority caucus, keeping Democrats in line, listening to their concerns and ensuring that the speaker has the votes he needs.

That means Peoples-Stokes will be in closed-door meetings where the real decisions are made. As News Albany bureau chief Tom Precious wrote, she will be “with Heastie when any assortment of policy, budget and political matters are being decided.”

Peoples-Stokes will be able, says Tokasz, to push “both attention and state resources to the Buffalo area.”

Over the years, Peoples-Stokes has focused on bringing state spending to the downtown Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and several workforce training initiatives, plus efforts to help East Side residents in various state-funded projects.

It is especially important that Peoples-Stokes won the job given Western New York’s diminished clout in the state Senate. When the Senate shifts to Democratic control in January, our region’s representation in the Senate majority dwindles from five Republican senators to one Democratic senator – Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo. Kennedy has just been appointed transportation committee chairman, a plum assignment on a panel responsible for billions of dollars in infrastructure spending.

It is worth noting that Peoples-Stokes’ appointment also marks two firsts. She is the first African-American and first woman to serve as Assembly majority leader.

Peoples-Stokes says she will work for all of New York “regardless of ZIP code, school district, race or background.” But in a follow-up interview she acknowledged the advantage to Buffalo and the region.

“At the end of the day I do represent Buffalo and Western New York,” she said, “and I cannot lose sight of that.”

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