Shortly after Assemb. Robert Sweeney arrived in Albany in 1988, he introduced legislation requiring insurance companies to pay for diabetes equipment, supplies and education. Insurers fought back but Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) pressed on and, four years later, the bill was passed. "It took time but we got there," Sweeney said in typical understatement.
His long career of persistence and productivity will come to an end in December when Sweeney retires. With his departure and that of fellow Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach), a fierce champion for the disabled, Long Island will lose two veteran voices and advocates for the region, in a Democratic-controlled chamber whose strongest caucus focuses on New York City issues.
Sweeney leaves a rich legislative legacy, from forcing insurance companies to cover reconstructive surgery after mastectomies to providing funding for environmental health centers for children. As chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee, his bills expanded the state bottle return law, increased funding for land conservation and pollution cleanups, and required the public be notified when raw or partially treated sewage is released. And in the wake of a Newsday investigative series, Sweeney wrote 13 bills that brought more transparency and accountability to fire districts.
Sweeney's success stems from a blend of passion and style. He has no ego, takes issues seriously but never himself, always tells people exactly what he thinks, and does not go back on his word. A skilled negotiator on difficult issues, other members look to him for guidance.
In his final legislative session, Sweeney is working on a water quality bill intended to reverse our history of nitrogen pollution and begin cleaning our water for generations to come. It's been a tough lift, but we've come to expect that from a legislator who has given so much.