The newly triumphant Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the first woman to lead a state legislative chamber in New York’s history. The test of her leadership will be whether she can retain the chamber through the 2020 election cycle — when Republicans are expected to field a last-ditch effort for control — in order to architect the 2021 reapportionment.
Most political observers expect Stewart-Cousins to ignore the interests of Western New York, given a caucus that is comprised mostly of New York City-based Democrats. Our region’s sole member of that caucus is South Buffalo’s Tim Kennedy, who remains a less pronounced junior member.
If she ignores Western New York, it will give Republicans a chance to retake the chamber. But is she showers the region with attention — and, more importantly, includes it three major spending bills that loom in the session ahead — then she could easily gain two local Senate seats to expand her caucus and thwart the opposition.
The 60th district, currently held by Chris Jacobs, is easily obtainable with even a second or third tier candidate, given the substantial Democrat enrollment advantage. And the 61st district, currently held by Mike Ranzenhofer, nearly flipped to Democrat Joan Seamans despite its Republican enrollment advantage.
Will Stewart-Cousins insist on including Western New York in the massive transit funding bill that is expected to address the horrific decades-long dilapidation of the Metropolitan Transit Authority?
Local economic development and construction industry officials want the State to fast-track the long-planned $1 billion light rapid rail extension to the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst. That Amherst has emerged as the region’s newly robust bastion of Democrat voters should help in those political calculations.
The NFTA’s newly released route configuration impacts both the 60th and 61st districts, where both Republicans have been opposed to the surprisingly popular project.
The second major funding bill expected next session will address the deplorable living conditions at the New York City Housing Authority, which manages 177,000 public housing units. An NYCHA-wide modernization would cost nearly $30 billion.
In recent weeks Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen has called on the State to fund $1 billion in badly needed improvements to the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, which manages 28 public housing complexes.
The third major spending bill expected in Albany will involve funding to professionalize adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants at the State University of New York. That increased state funding is expected to coincide with a major unionization effort by the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT).
Some operatives expect that the Governor will brand that spending as an economic development initiative that aims to train several hundred thousand software engineers within ten years.
If Western New York is sufficiently including in those three spending programs, Stewart-Cousins will have delivered for Western New York in ways that the Republican caucus was never willing — and will doom any chance that they have to retake the chamber ahead of redistricting.