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Bob McCarthy: A different day in Albany

Robert J. McCarthy

Albany is a fairly predictable town.

Its rhythms revolve around the State Legislature schedule, like when the Capitol springs back to life in January at the start of a new session. Crowds return to venerable restaurants and watering holes like Jack’s Oyster House, a top-notch gathering place since 1913. It teems during session with all kinds of important-looking people.

But a Monday night in July? You can probably get a table.

So it’s almost inconceivable that the ways of Albany have suddenly and drastically changed. Even the dynamic surrounding the governor’s State of State address – in which he lays out his philosophies and goals for the year – is now transformed. And it all stems from November’s Republican losses that may relegate them to an Albany afterthought for years to come.

It’s all so ironic. For generations Republicans wielded real power as masters of the Senate, even when they lost everything else in ultra-Democratic New York. They came to Albany from upstate and Long Island and had an enormous say in the budget process.

Now they are dislodged from their lofty perch in one of the most significant power transfers of New York history.

The difference glared on Tuesday when Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his annual speech to the Legislature.

“I believe we are in a fundamentally different space. In the old days, too many good ideas went to the State Senate to die. Now we have good ideas going to the State Senate to be born,” the emboldened governor said. “For 40 years we haven’t had a Democratic Assembly, Senate and governor, besides one brief period. We can do it. It’s just us.”

Republicans seemed stunned. They are used to reporters clamoring for reaction immediately after the governor’s speech. Now the TV lights focused on Democrats like Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo.

Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan of Elma encountered a microphone and notebook or two after the speech, but not like the old days. He issued the usual GOP concerns about new mandates on business and industry, or the “assumption” that new revenues would simply be spent rather than reducing taxes. And he said just because the governor says something “does not necessarily mean it’s so.”

But Gallivan recognizes reality.

“The difference in going from the majority to the minority is in not being able to set the agenda,” he said.

That means Senate Democrats will largely enact Cuomo’s program to legalize recreational marijuana, allow sports gambling at upstate casinos, drive state education aid to schools with low-income students, expand the bottle bill and abortion rights, too.

The Senate formerly short-stopped these measures. Now the new proposals are expected to sail through the Democratic Legislature to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Earlier this month, Republican Sen. Cathy Young of Olean complained about new campaign reforms that could pave the way for public financing of elections. She pointed to a host of ethical problems stemming from New York City’s public financing system.

“The notion that replicating this corrupt bureaucracy on a statewide scale would somehow bring integrity to the campaign process is ludicrous,” she said.

But her protest only underscored the new reality. Public financing of campaigns always proved anathema to the Republican Senate. Now she sounded like the Democrats of a year ago as Republicans nixed their programs.

Acting Senate Minority Leader Joseph Griffo last week also railed against new ethics rules immediately enacted by the new majority. Biased, partisan and politically motivated investigations of members will result, he said. So will other rules like ending the guarantee of 30 percent of total staff resources to the minority.

“I hope the Democrats will reconsider these rules changes,” he said in the ironic quote of the month.

Not gonna happen. New ways and new rhythms of Albany lie ahead.

Lots of things in Albany don’t change – but Republican influence there has.

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