ALBANY — Albany County lawmakers celebrated the legislature’s 50th anniversary last weekend with elected officials and Albany County employees, both past and present, party officials, legislative staff and a group of representatives from Albany Medical Center, who were presented with a large “check” for $10,000 in support of the hospital’s new pediatric emergency department.
The event, held at The Desmond in Colonie on Saturday, Feb. 24, also honored Paul Devane, Sr., who has served on the legislature since its inception 50 years ago—first as a legislator and, since 1974, as clerk of the legislature. Devane has worked with 12 consecutive Albany County Legislatures and has attended more than 500 legislative meetings. Legislature Chairman Andrew Joyce presented Devane with a Lifetime Achievement Award during
“With all the discussion about change, transition and new ideas, we can’t lose perspective of our past,” said Joyce. “Paul’s vast experience has already proven to be an invaluable asset as we work to bring the legislature into the future.”
Deputy Chair Wanda Willingham accepted Pioneer awards for three former legislators, now deceased, who are considered trailblazers—and all of whom served on the first legislature in the late ’60s. Homer L. Perkins was the first black member elected, and Blanche R. Rourke and Dorothy Baar were the first women members elected to the body.
Blanche Rourke, of Albany, began her political career in 1967 as the sole woman on the Albany County Board of Supervisors, representing Ward 9 in the City of Albany. She served as legislator for five years from 1968 to 1972, representing the ninth Legislative District.
Dorothy Baar, of Colonie, represented the 28th Legislative District and served from 1968 through 1971. Prior to joining the legislature, Baar represented Colonie on the Town Council.
Homer Perkins, of Albany, served for 20 years in Albany County government, starting as a member of the County Board of Supervisors in 1964. He was the first and the only black member of the 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1980 County Legislatures.
The highlight of the event, said Dennis Yusko, a spokesperson for the legislative majority, was handing $10,000 over to Albany Med for its new pediatric emergency department, which will be opening this summer. The money, he said, was raised through event sponsors, including local businesses and elected officials.
“The stand-alone emergency department for children will be staffed with pediatric specialists 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a setting specifically designed for the needs of children and their families,” Majority Leader Gary Domalewicz said of the new Massry Family Children’s Emergency Center..
The following legislators also received Distinguished Service awards for serving more than 20 years in the Legislature.
• Legislator Gilbert F. Ethier, of Cohoes, has served for 38 years.
• Frank J. Commisso Sr., of Albany, has been a legislator since 1983 and served as majority leader for half of its history, a quarter of a century.
• Lucille M. McKnight has been a County Legislator since 1992, served as former deputy majority leader under Commisso and was the first African-American lawmaker to hold a leadership post above committee chair.
• Sean E. Ward became a legislator in 1995 and recently served as its chairman.
• Domalewicz has been an County Legislator for 25 years and was recently elected to his current position as party leader.
“Fifty years ago, on Jan. 2, 1968, the Albany County Legislature met for the first time, having replaced the County Board of Supervisors,” said Domalewicz. “The change set the stage for a new era of government in which the county would play a much more visible role in governing.”