Minority Report

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The post-election season usually involves political shifting. That includes new people sometimes jockeying for leadership posts.

This
time the political sands shifted for minority leadership positions.
Stephanie Aldersley morphs into Carla Palumbo as the new head of the
Democratic minority caucus on the Monroe County Legislature.

Charlie Nesbitt fades away for Jim Tedesco as leader of the Republican minority on the New York State Assembly.

And,
with these changes is one truth: These minority leadership jobs are
some of the toughest political tasks. Minority parties rarely impact on
policy through the legislative process. Sadly, the majorities in any
legislature are quick to bat down or table proposals from the minority
side. So the minority must represent the alternative voice. This can
happen in floor speeches. Or it can happen through the press.

The
other job for the minority leader is, quite simply, to marshal the
forces needed to increase the ranks and get closer to the majority. In
other words, this person is far more of a political leader.

We’ve
heard two explanations for Palumbo for Aldersley swap for Monroe County
legislative Democrats. First, that a change is needed to keep the blood
flowing. Aldersley had the job for three and a half years, and, as
Palumbo explained, any organization worth its salt needs a fresh
approach now and again. Second, this change sets up better continuity
for the Democratic caucus because Aldersley – an eight year incumbent –
has only two more years before term limits force her out. Palumbo first
took her legislative seat after the 2001 elections.

But it
leaves out the political equation. During this year’s election,
Democrats county legislature maintained 12 seats on the 29-person
legislative body. But there was no increase of numbers. In fact, the
Democrats never got close to taking control under Aldersley’s
three-and-a-half year run as leader. Some will choose to blame
Aldersley. I would say that the Democratic Party in general has been in
such disarray over the last few years that no one would have been able
to make a difference.

But that political component becomes
part of the job. And the minority leader is sometimes like the coach of
a rebuilding football team that isn’t making any promise. The blame may
or may not lie with the coaching decisions, but the axe always comes
down on the coach’s neck first.

It is worth noting that
Democrats have found new hope after November. And it’s because of wins
in town and county legislative races in Irondequoit – a town that is as
much Aldersley country as it is O’Brien’s or new town supervisor Mary
Ellen Heyman’s.

But, in the end, the numbers of the caucus
needed to go up. And now it’s Carla Palumbo who will have the
responsibility for pushing them up.

Charlie Nesbitt, the Albion-based state assemblyman, can relate.

Nesbitt
– who represents a portion of northwestern Monroe County – also held
the position of Republican Assembly minority leader. One supposes that
he could only look on with envy at Republican Senate Majority Leader
Joe Bruno, who wielded power and became known as one of the three men
in the room.

Nesbitt’s caucus was dwarfed by the Democrats
(lead by Sheldon Silver). The noise that he could make during, say,
budget season was puny. And Nesbitt had no luck in building up the
minority’s numbers and, in fact, was seeing the caucus lose seats
(right now Democrats have 105 seats to the Republicans’ 42).

Things
came to a head earlier this year when Assemblyman Dan Burling announced
he would challenge Nesbitt for the caucus leadership. He told Karen
Dewitt, "We’ve got members that don’t feel this conference is taking
any direction."

Nesbitt withstood the Burling challenge. But
you had to wonder how much longer Nesbitt was going to hold on. For, in
the end, Nesbitt took the blame for the numbers even though the
Republican dilemma was as much a problem of redistricting, a process
that ensured the comfort of incumbents. As Nesbitt must know all too
well, when your team has far fewer incumbents, those incumbent
protection redistricting maps are really no help at all (something he
can thank Joe Bruno for as much as Sheldon Silver).

But
Nesbitt no longer has to worry about the growth of the minority now
that Gov. George Pataki has appointed him head of the tax appeals
tribunal.

Now Assemblyman Jim Tedesco of Schenectady must shoulder the leadership yoke. Just like Carla Palumbo will. 

Sounds like a rather thankless job, doesn’t it?

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