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Editorial: As barriers break in Albany, leaders must attend to WNY's needs

A great number of voters in New York State believe that glass ceilings are made to be broken.

Another one bit the dust on Wednesday with the elevation of Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins to Senate temporary president and majority leader. Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Yonkers, is the first woman to lead the chamber in its 242 years. There are now 20 female senators out of 63.

Also, the leaders of both chambers – Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie – are both African-American. The Assembly’s majority leader is Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, who is female and African-American.

There is real diversity in the Senate, which seated its first Muslim, first Iranian American, first Chinese American, first Salvadoran American, first Costa Rican American, first Indian American and two Colombian Americans.

Some will dismiss these milestones as symbols of identity politics. But the truth is it matters that the state’s increasingly diverse citizenry feels it has real representation in Albany.

A core concern in this corner of the state is how well-represented Western New York will be. With Democrats now in control of both legislative chambers, downstate issues often dominate the agenda. Having Peoples-Stokes in a leadership position is a big plus for our region.

In the Senate, Buffalo Democrat Timothy Kennedy is our lone member in the majority party. Kennedy, a South Buffalo native, saw his clout increase tremendously when control of the Senate flipped from Republican control in November’s elections. Democrats now rule the upper house 40-23. Kennedy is one of only three Senate Democrats in an area of upstate that stretches for nearly 42,000 square miles.

Sen. Michael Gianaris is a Queens Democrat who ran the party’s campaign committee. He told The Buffalo News in November that Kennedy is part of the Senate’s Democratic leadership team and the party would listen very closely to what he has to say.

Also, Gianaris said that Senate Republicans won’t get shut out of things by being in the minority.

“We are committed to breaking the Albany mold,” he said, vowing to stop playing “the divisive game” of the past and “be sensitive to regional needs.”

Peoples-Stokes gives Western New York a woman in the room with Heastie when policy, budget and political matters are being decided.

In November, Heastie released a statement saying he has seen “firsthand how hard (Peoples-Stokes) works for the people of Buffalo and for families across our state.”

The leaders and newly elected members took their oaths on Wednesday, with lots of smiles and optimistic pronouncements. Since Nov. 6, our region has been assured by politicians that our region’s voices will be heard at the Capitol, and our issues and priorities given a fair hearing.

In Albany, it pays to remember the phrase, “Trust but verify.”

Western New York will be watching to see that the promise-makers become promise-keepers.

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