Aug, 2, 1935 – Dec. 21, 2018
On the January, 1979 night he was elevated to the New York Assembly’s second highest post, Daniel B. Walsh stood inside his ornate new Capitol office and took it all in.
“I might be the first son of Irish immigrants to ever be majority leader of the Assembly,” he mused, summarizing the former teacher from Franklinville’s meteoric rise in politics.
Mr. Walsh died Friday in Albany after a long illness. He was 83. His tenure in the Assembly and later as president of the Business Council of New York State ranked the Olean native as one of the most influential Western New Yorkers to ever arrive in Albany. He will be remembered as the first upstate Democrat in modern times to hold the Assembly’s second spot and the first from Western New York, previously reserved for New York City types.
Later he parlayed his Democratic connections throughout Albany as leader of the Business Council, the state’s powerful lobby for business and industry.
His job with the Business Council is a great example of how highly Walsh was thought of in the Assembly, said former Cattaraugus County Judge Michael Nenno, who knew Walsh for more than 45 years.
"He had a wonderful personality, he was great at remembering people. He just could get people together and make them work together," said Nenno, who also worked for Walsh as his counsel in the Assembly.
"Dan was able to bring a balance to everybody in Albany. He had very good friends on both sides of the aisle, and he was able to put things together," Nenno said.
Witty, urbane and personable, Walsh could step into an Olean watering hole like Welch’s Restaurant or Albany’s tony Fort Orange Club and be recognized by everyone in the house. He used that gift to launch a political career first in the Cattaraugus County Legislature and then the Assembly.
Mr. Walsh grew up in Olean, the son of Pierce and Mary Cronin Walsh. He played basketball for Olean High School and then earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Following a two-year tour of Korea with the Army’s 7th Infantry, he returned to Olean in 1960 for a master’s degree in secondary school administration, also from St. Bonaventure.
For the next nine years Mr. Walsh taught and coached basketball at Archbishop Walsh High School and then Franklinville Central School, where he also started and coached the golf team. He launched his political career with a successful campaign for the County Legislature in 1969, where he served as minority leader.
In 1972 Mr. Walsh set his sights on the Assembly, becoming the first Democrat since 1912 to occupy the seat. He convinced local voters after touring the three-county district on foot along a 300-mile trail, earning his famous “Walkin’ Dan” moniker. He quickly advanced into Assembly leadership as chairman of the Agriculture and Transportation committees and then assistant majority leader, while working on major local issues like completion of the Southern Tier Expressway.
His place in Assembly annals was secured in the reorganization of 1979, when newly elected Speaker Stanley Fink of Brooklyn tapped Mr. Walsh as majority leader.
“Danny is not only liked and respected but adored by his colleagues,” Fink told Capitol reporters that night at the onset of a leadership career that thrust him into the forefront of almost every major issue.
An editorial in The Buffalo Evening News just after his elevation to minority leader underscored its significance.
“This is a much deserved recognition of the abilities Mr. Walsh has demonstrated and the confidence he has earned from his colleagues during a meteoric six-year rise in the Assembly’s top leadership ranks,” The News said. “And it also is a most welcome acknowledgement of the importance of the state’s second most populous region in a broadening of the party’s upstate appeal.”
Mr. Walsh left the Assembly in 1987 to head the Business Council until his retirement in 2006.
“The Council’s successes were due to Mr. Walsh’s leadership and the relationships he built during his years of service to the private and public sectors,” the organization said when honoring him in 2007.
Mr. Walsh served on various boards during his career, including the St. Bonaventure Board of Trustees, the Albany Medical Center, Evergreen Bank and the New York State Troopers Foundation. He also served as president of the Board of Trustees for the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. A golfer throughout his life, he was a member of the Schuyler Meadows Club and the Fort Orange Club, and in recent years split his time between the Albany suburb of Glenmont and Florida.
He is survived by his wife of 31 years, the former Susan Frohe; two daughters, Courtney and Meghan Heister; and three grandchildren.
A memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Jan. 5 in St. Mary's Catholic Church, 10 Lodge St., Albany.