Catharine Young has been an influential voice in Albany for New York’s Western Southern Tier for almost two decades, first as an assemblywoman and, since 2005, as a senator based in Olean. That comes to an end on Sunday when she resigns her post in the 57th District to take a private sector job in agriculture with Cornell University.
The timing is unfortunate. Her resignation comes just four months after she won an uncontested re-election in which she appeared on four lines. It’s also less than a month before the state budget deadline.
Nevertheless, there is a logic to it. Whatever stresses it may create, she has been an able and conscientious public servant. No one has cause to do anything but wish her well and thank her for 20 years of service.
Although she demurs from discussing the subject, it’s easy to believe her Republican Party’s drubbing in November’s elections played a significant part. It’s hard to be cast into the minority, especially in Albany and especially after decades in the driver’s seat.
Similarly, her recent loss to Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, whom she challenged for the party’s top spot in the chamber, had to have stung. Not only did she fail in the attempt, but he then stripped her of her position on the Senate Republican Campaign Committee and of her role as ranking Republican on the Finance Committee.
The result was this: After 14 years in the Senate, she had no significant role within her party which, itself, had no significant role in the chamber. In the State Legislature, the majority parties pull all the strings; witness the Democratic Senate’s rapid approval of matters the Republicans had previously blocked: on the Child Victims Act, on abortion, on gun control and more.
It’s bad enough when you lose all influence in legislating, but it adds insult when – for reasons good or bad – you lose influence in an organization that is, as a practical matter, irrelevant. Under similar circumstances, most able people, we suspect, would at least be open to other opportunities, especially when the distance from home to work is more than 300 miles.
Young found a good one. The woman who grew up on a dairy farm in Livingston County and who served as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee will begin work next week as executive director of the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell’s AgriTech in Geneva. “This is a great opportunity to continue my public service,’’ Young said.
The job is to put cutting-edge agricultural and food industry research into the hands of businesses. It’s a valuable pursuit and one that requires her to travel less than half the distance to Albany.
Unfortunately for her constituents, the timing of her resignation leaves them without a voice in the Senate as negotiations on the state budget pick up their pace, speeding toward the April 1 deadline. If it’s any consolation, she wouldn’t have played much of a role anyway. Democrats are now the deciders.
Still, all New Yorkers are entitled to representation in the chambers of the Legislature. Albany must move swiftly to ensure that Young’s constituents have the chance to elect a new senator as soon as possible. The district covers Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany and half of Livingston counties.
In the meantime, here’s to Young and to new opportunities.