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Editorial: NY Assembly mustn't overlook suburban needs

The State Capitol building on March 10, 2008

The State Capitol building on March 10, 2008 in Albany, New York. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Heading into Election Day, the biggest unknown is which party will control the New York State Senate. The surest bet, however, is that Democrats will continue to dominate the Assembly.

Democrats hold a supermajority, 98 of the 150 seats -- and the number would be higher if some seats weren't vacant. Within that supermajority, New York City representatives hold another supermajority: 62 of the city's 64 seats.

The last time Republicans controlled the chamber, and Long Island had some juice, was in 1974. Back then, the powerful speaker's office was held by Perry Duryea of Montauk. Now it belongs to Sheldon Silver of Manhattan.

So even if one or two of the 22 Assembly seats in Nassau and Suffolk counties switch hands this fall, it won't make much of a difference in terms of clout within the party, or in the chamber. The real question is whether Long Island's delegation, which most likely will remain roughly split between the two major parties, can develop a suburban coalition to look out for the interests of Long Island and similar regions across the state.

It's worth a try.

During annual budget negotiations, Republicans and Democrats already wrangle every last dollar they can for education aid to their local school districts. This funding has never been more important because the tax cap now holds down property tax revenue from homeowners.

This is one area where Assembly Democrats, despite their pleas to Speaker Silver, will concede that a GOP Senate majority is key to getting a bigger share for our region. The Long Island delegation also comes together to lobby for more spending for local roads and the Long Island Rail Road. It must also speak with one strong voice to protect our water quality, whether it's the water we drink or coastal water that surrounds us.

A big test will come this winter during budget negotiations over how to spend an estimated one-time windfall of $4 billion-plus from the settlement of litigation against major banks for their roles in the mortgage securitization meltdown.

Making the Assembly work better for Long Island is not just about party clout, it's also about personalities and relationships and trust, the only way to work across the aisle and in the aisle.

Lindenhurst's Robert Sweeney was the de facto leader of the Long Island delegation, often hosting the group in the big conference room of the environmental conservation committee that he chaired.

Sweeney's retirement this year leaves a big leadership gap on environmental issues like water quality and open space for our region. Democrat Steven Englebright of Setauket is by seniority and temperament the person who should step up to fill that void. Silver would be wise to name him chair of the environmental conservation committee and include him in the leadership ranks.

Throughout this election season, Democrats have said they can take care of the suburbs on key issues just as well as Republicans. The Assembly would be a fine proving ground.

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