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'LI Nine' rookie Phil Boyle a 'pro' to Albany

Phil Boyle got the Independence nod for state

Phil Boyle got the Independence nod for state Senate. Credit: Newsday staff

ALBANY -- Phil Boyle will be a freshman state senator when he takes office in January.

But he won't be new to politics, or the State Capitol.

"He's probably the most experienced freshman there's ever been in Albany," said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works primarily for Republicans. "There's not going be a learning curve for him."

The reason? Boyle, 51, has been in and around New York politics for half his life.

He's worked for two congressmen, including managing a campaign for former GOP Rep. Rick Lazio, and served two stints as a state assemblyman, putting in 14 years in the lower house.

The Bay Shore Republican arrives at the State Senate on Jan. 1, after edging Democrat Rick Montano in a contest to succeed retiring Sen. Owen Johnson. The 4th District, slightly altered by redistricting this year, runs mainly along the South Shore from West Babylon to Islip, then runs northeast to Holbrook.

Boyle grew up in East Islip and graduated from East Islip High School in 1979, a classmate of former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason. He earned a bachelor's degree at the University of North Carolina and a law degree from Albany Law School.

He is the one rookie among the "Long Island Nine" -- a political moniker for the all-Republican Long Island Senate delegation. For years, the delegation has been among the most powerful blocs in Albany.

That should stay that way -- even though Democrats won a majority of seats on Election Day. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) brokered a deal to put together 30 Republicans and six dissident Democrats to form a new "Majority Senate Coalition" to govern the chamber, leaving at least 26 mainline Democrats in the minority.

One race is still pending, with both sides fighting over absentee ballots in a Catskills-Capital Region district.

Being in the majority makes all the difference in Albany, as Boyle knows well. Those in the legislative minority, as he was in the Democrat-dominated Assembly, seldom get bills passed. If he's in the majority in 2013, Boyle said it would be a first for him.

"I would really look forward to the opportunity," Boyle said in a bit of understatement. "I've been in government since my mid-20s and I've always been in the minority."

He added: "When you're in the minority, you come up with a good idea and it never has any chance for passage . . . unless you offer a Democratic colleague the bill" to carry through the process.

Boyle said his incoming agenda will focus on recovery aid and other assistance for Long Island residents and businesses impacted by superstorm Sandy.

He also wants to introduce what he calls a compromise measure on marijuana.

Cuomo proposed decriminalizing the possession of limited amounts of marijuana, a reaction to what he and others have called unfair "stop and frisk" tactics by police. The controversy -- largely a New York City issue -- didn't center on amounts but rather on the issue of police officers telling suspects to empty their pockets, revealing a marijuana cigarette, and charging the suspects with misdemeanors because they "publicly displayed" marijuana.

Republicans, including Skelos, balked at the idea.

Boyle said he'd introduce a bill that would prevent suspects from being charged with misdemeanors under such scenarios but "would not decriminalize" marijuana possession, a concept Skelos has said he could support.

Boyle cut a somewhat unusual profile in the state Assembly -- applauded by both the Conservative Party and the Environmental Planning Lobby. Environmentalists graded him a 91 in the 2012 state legislative session for his votes to tighten hazardous-waste and sewage-pollution laws. That was one of the highest marks for a Republican in the Assembly.

The Conservative Party gave him a 70 -- an average mark for a GOP assemblyman. They lauded him for opposing a minimum-wage hike that tied future raises to inflation and for supporting curbs on pensions for public employees. But the party criticized him for opposing a bill to mandate disclosure of teacher evaluations to parents.

"Phil Boyle is a moderate guy who can talk to people on the other side of the aisle and make deals, in the best sense of that word," said Larry Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University and a former Newsday columnist.

Levy called Boyle a "political pro," adding, "He's got a lot more experience than the average freshman."

Still, "this will be the first time for him on the big legislative stage," Levy said. "It will be a different test."

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