ALBANY COUNTY Ultimately, members of the newly formed Democratic Reform Coalition did decide to challenge Majority Leader Frank Commisso (D-11) for his seat at the head of the Democratic caucus, a position he has held, unchallenged, since the early 90s. They chose to run Legislator Joe O’Brien (D-25), who will be going into his second term in January.
“A number of people have been asking for meaningful change,” O’Brien told SpotlightNews, saying that rank-and-file legislators are frustrated at their lack of involvement in the political process. Describing the current process as essentially a three-white-men-in-a-room dynamic, he said that there is very little representation of women or minorities and that, often, committees have little knowledge of legislation that they are expected to pass.
Commisso, Chairman Shawn Morse (D-17) and Deputy Majority Leader Sean Ward (D-16), according to several legislators, make legislative decisions and then present them to the rest of the legislature as, essentially, foregone conclusions. There have been a number of notable instances when this has caused suspicion and anger among the other 36 democratically elected members of the legislature.
Commisso responded that he was confused by the challenge and questioned O’Brien’s motivation. “Anyone who knows Frank Commisso,” he said, “knows that he’s accessible, that he’s there when called upon, and he’s a true democratic leader.”
Ultimately Commisso retained his position, when at least ten reform Democrats boycotted the vote on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 10, with a vote of 17-0-1. When all the lobbying was said and done, several reform Dems apparently chose to support Commisso for Majority Leader and incoming legislator Lynne Lekakis (a member of the coalition who will represent the 8th district) abstained.
It remains to be seen who will replace outgoing Chairman Morse. That vote will take place between Jan. 1 and Jan. 8, per charter rules, and will be decided by the entire legislature rather than just the Democratic caucus. Republicans who are unhappy with current Dem leadership may be persuaded to support a reformist for the seat-Clenehan seems to be the likeliest choice-and, if all coalition Dems decide to vote in support of the changes outlined in their platform, it’s possible that legislative leadership could be divided between the old guard and the new for the next four years.
If the budget vote in early December was any indication, Clenehan may have the support he needs to defeat Ward; All but one Republican voted consistently to deny changes made to the initial budget by sitting leadership.