ALBANY — A contingent of Democratic legislators who have been agitating to replace longstanding party leadership they have criticized as exclusionary and unresponsive finally succeeded in doing so on Thursday, Jan. 18, during a special caucus called by the new Chairman Legislature Andrew Joyce (D-9.)
During the brief meeting, Majority Leader Frank Commisso, Sr. (D-11), who led the party in the Legislature since 1993, tendered his resignation and the body elected Gary Domalewicz (D-10) as the first new majority leader in 25 years.
Domalewicz named Legislators Alison McLean Lane (D-14) and Joanne Cunningham (D-34) as co-deputy leaders, replacing Legislators Luci McKnight and Gil Ethier.
“As with all elected bodies, over time new members are voted in. Unless leadership changes to reflect the needs of those members and their districts, the natural progression is a change in leadership,” said McLean Lane. “I am excited to work serving my fellow legislators and implement some of the changes we have been requesting.”
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 that seat from candidates favored by Commisso.
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.”
According to Joyce, his office sent out a notice on Friday, Jan. 12, announcing his intention to call a meeting of the majority.
“They wanted to discuss the future and were not confident that the majority leader was going to go ahead and facilitate that discussion,” he said.
Commisso sent a memo to the majority conference on Tuesday, Jan. 16, claiming that his term had not yet expired and that Joyce “improperly” called the meeting because calling meetings did not fall under his authority.
Commisso went on to not only state that any action taken at the meeting would be invalid, but also pointed out that a meeting had already scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 8. “I believe that the business of the caucus should not take place with hastily scheduled meetings,” he wrote.
“We cannot find anything anywhere that defines his term as majority leader,” Joyce said. “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.”
Domalewicz has been a legislator since 1993. He has held multiple senior positions including chair of the Audit and Finance Committee. He was a member of the County’s Welfare Reform Task Force. He is a member and Chair of the Albany County Industrial Development Agency, was elected delegate to the Third Judicial District nominating convention and sat on the Albany City Charter Revision Commission whose recommendations for changes were approved by voters in 1998.
“I am honored to serve as majority leader for this body, and I am humbled by the incredible support I have received from my colleagues,” he said. “It is time for our body to move in a new direction. My colleagues have embraced this opportunity and I am looking forward to serving every member of the majority.”
One member said a recent issue involving a land deal pushed through the Legislature in December after the buyer sent a letter to Sean Ward, then chairman of the body, which many members viewed with suspicion, likely galvanized the body to take action when it did, as well as recent comments from outsiders regarding the integrity of Albany County lawmakers.
While Commisso insisted that there was nothing untoward about that deal and that the $60,000 offered for the foreclosed Berne property was more than he felt the land bank would have been able to recover, critics of the deal said it should have been handled with more transparency and due diligence.
Commisso said that he intends to run to retain his seat in two years and that he is looking forward to continuing to work with the body to accomplish things such as an intermunicipal anaerobic waste project that he has been working on for the past decade.
He also said, however, that he’s looking forward to having extra time to spend with his grandchildren.
“I would like to thank you, the people of Albany County and the 11th Legislative District for the opportunity to serve as majority leader,” wrote Commisso in his resignation memo to the Legislature. “It has been an honor and a privilege.”