ALBANY — A contingent of Democratic legislators who have long been agitating to overthrow party leadership they perceive as exclusionary and unresponsive may finally succeed in doing so tonight, Thursday, Jan. 18, at a special caucus called by the new Chairman of the Legislature Andrew Joyce (D-9).
Joyce’s election as chair of the entire governing body represented the first time a band of Democrats has been able to wrest control of the seat from candidates favored by long-standing Majority Leader Frank Commisso, Sr. (D-11), who has led the party in the Legislature since 1993. While the vote within the party was tight, 14-15 in favor of Joyce, the group seems to think the victory indicates that this is a good time to unseat Commisso, as well.
Joyce, who has said his major priority is to listen to all legislators, called the early meeting in response to members of his party who he said, “have called on me to facilitate a productive discussion on the future of their caucus.”
At around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, reform Democrats seemed confident that they had more than enough votes to unseat Commisso, who sent a memo to the majority conference on Tuesday, Jan. 16, claiming that his term has not yet expired and that Joyce “improperly” called the meeting.
“As majority leader,” he wrote, “I have the authority to schedule meetings of the caucus. The chair of the county Legislature has no authority to schedule a meeting of the Democratic or the Republican caucus.”
Commisso went on to state that any action taken at the meeting would be invalid. “There is a meeting scheduled for Feb. 8, 2018,” he wrote. “I believe tfhat the business of the caucus should not take place with hastily scheduled meetings.”
In response, Joyce sent out a memo dated Thursday, Jan. 18, which bore the signatures of 18 (of 29) Democratic legislators, challenging Commisso’s position. “We’re working amidst a period of positive change in the Albany County Legislature,” he wrote. “I find any effort to stifle this important and necessary discussion to be very problematic, and so should you.”
He stated that his office has reached out to the Office of the Democratic Majority, requesting any “policy guidance that gives the majority leader sole authority to call meetings,” and that no response has been received.
The Office of the Majority declined comment.
“We cannot find anything anywhere that defines his term as majority leader,” Joyce told Spotlight News. “It’s not defined anywhere. He’ll run for re-election with the rest of us, but that doesn’t define his term as majority leader.”
According to Joyce, his office sent out a notice on Friday, Jan. 12, announcing his intention to call a meeting of the majority party. “Because they wanted to meet,” he said. “They wanted to discuss the future and were not confident that the majority leader was going to go ahead and facilitate that discussion. So I’ve been asked to do it, and I called the meeting, which is well within my rights as chair of the Legislature.”
It is expected that Legislator Gary Domalewicz (D-10) will challenge Commisso for his seat during tonight’s caucus. Domalewicz, chairman of the Audit and Finance Committee, gained a reputation for transparency in governing during last year’s budget process and, according to several legislators, has been actively listening to members of his party who have felt marginalized under current leadership.
Commisso and other party members declined to speak before the meeting, but insiders said the 18 signatories on Joyce’s notice indicated an easy victory for the self-proclaimed reformers and a possible revamping of the entire legislative process.