State Legislature Loses Some Top Figures: Analysis

Some bums got thrown out, but veterans gone as well

By Michael Gormley
|  Saturday, Nov 27, 2010  |  Updated 12:15 PM EDT
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AP

**FOR RELEASE WEEKEND MAY 9-11 AND THEREAFTER** Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Elmsford, laughs while working in the Assembly Chamber at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., Monday, May 4, 2009. On Tuesday, he was in court trying to pry loose records from the New York Yankees as part of his investigation into $4 billion in public-supported financing for the team's new stadium. It's just the latest way the legislator and lawyer, at his own expense, uses the courts to enforce what he sees as violations of law and pollution standards, to reform public authorities, to force utilities to return overcharges, and to protect free speech. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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They aren't all bums.

New York's much maligned state Legislature will greet its biggest freshman class in a generation come January, thanks in part to the national throw-the-bums-out rage.

But the next New York Legislature will also convene without some veteran lawmakers who may someday be considered giants.

Gone will be Sen. Eric Schneiderman. The Manhattan Democrat's near smirk in floor debates sometimes made his foes squirm as they awaited the cutting argument, steeped in legal citations.

The Assembly will lose the more explosive Assemblyman Richard Brodsky. When the Westchester Democrat paused in a floor debate, he silenced the chamber as he gazed over his glasses at an opponent who knew he'd just been snared in a rhetorical trap.

The chamber will also be without Assemblyman William Parment, the Democrat from Jamestown who could quiet a noisy debate in closed-door conferences just by clearing his throat and preparing to speak.

Republicans lose Sens. Frank Padavan of Queens and Dale Volker of Erie County. Both are thoughtful conservatives always ready for a floor fight, but a fair one, with a respect for the senior house.

Schneiderman left the seat he won in 1999 to become attorney general, Brodsky gave up his seat, first won in 1982, to run for attorney general. Parment, first elected in 1982, and Volker, a senator since 1974, retired. Padavan, after serving since 1972, narrowly lost his re-election bid.

"Bill Parment is a respected figure within the conference and Brodsky was a policy wonk, almost without peer, and those people leaving will create holes in the conference," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group and an Albany watchdog for more than 25 years.

"Schneiderman leaving leaves a void on the left side of the Senate," Horner said. "And Volker leaving leaves a hole on the right. But my guess is there will be senators filling that void."

Replacing name plates is easy. Replacing such Damon Runyon characters is not.

Brodsky used a dizzying intellect, humor and outrage in floor fights in which he never seemed stumped by an opposing legislator's pointed questions on complex bills. In his early, more combative days, Brodsky once concluded a long floor harangue near midnight, and was met with a rousing bipartisan applause because he was finally done talking.

But Brodsky, a Harvard-trained lawyer, also took his crusades to court. Brodsky sued the Republican administration of Gov. George Pataki, repeatedly, at no cost as the Assembly's attorney against a panel of private attorneys hired by the administration.

Brodsky won.

He's pushed the subpoena power as chairman of a committee to new limits, against Pataki and Democratic administrations, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York's beloved Yankees baseball team as he sought to force lower ticket prices in return for the public subsidies used to build the new Yankee Stadium.

"I really am very fond of Richard personally," said David Catalfamo, former aide to Pataki. "He came at us hard in the governor's office. But it was never personal with Richard. It never got that way. I could always reach out to him and he would make clear what his end goal was. We would battle that out, but I always respected him."

The same went for Parment, quiet, slight and unassuming.

"There are few more thoughtful legislators than Bill Parment," Catalfamo said. "I like and respect him a lot ... They were tenacious and they will be missed."

"Both Dick and Bill had a lot to offer, different perspectives, but intelligence, they were committed to the public and the institution," said Assembly Majority Leader Ronald Canestrari of Albany County.

Parment "was such a kind of sage student of Albany," said Democratic Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo, while Brodsky "challenged everybody."

Padavan, who finally fell amid a rising Democratic enrollment in his Queens Senate district, was the Legislature's leading opponent to gambling, which he's noted often is an addiction or serious problem for 1 million New Yorkers and their families. When other lawmakers in both parties increasingly turned to video slot machines, lottery games and Indian casinos for easy tax revenue, Padavan mounted his annual floor fights, questioning and lecturing the proponents.

Volker, a tall and imposing Republican senator from Erie County, often took the lead in law-and-order measures in the face of civil libertarian Democrats from New York City.

In 2007 a debate raged in the Senate over whether rape suspects should be forced to undergo HIV testing if the victim sought it. Manhattan Democratic Sen. Thomas Duane, the Senate's first openly gay legislator, argued in opposition so vehemently that Volker rose and commanded decorum in the chamber, saying the nurses were worried about Duane's health.

Schneiderman wove lengthy floor speeches spiced with humor that were highlights of some of the Senate's more statesmanlike debates over issues such as gay marriage and repeal of the Rockefeller era drug laws.

"Schneiderman was articulate, he could think through complicated problems and he could direct legislation toward that end," said Republican Sen. Kemp Hannon. "That's the loss. The positive is, I probably disagreed with where he went on it."

In 2009, Schneiderman framed the politically charged question of legalizing gay marriage not as a liberal cause, but about equality for gays in the work place, for insurance benefits and government benefits, and the right to be considered "immediate family" when a partner is hospitalized.

"You can't legislate morality," he said, holding The Declaration of Independence, "but you can legislate justice."

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