Capital Region Scrapbook: As legislative session of ’58 opened, Electric City delegation wielded plenty of power

Fifty years ago, the state Assembly and Senate featured plenty of local stars.
New York State Assembly Speaker Oswald D. Heck of Schenectady raises his gavel on Jan. 8, 1958, to open a new legislative session.
New York State Assembly Speaker Oswald D. Heck of Schenectady raises his gavel on Jan. 8, 1958, to open a new legislative session.

Oswald D. Heck knew his way around New York’s Legislative Office Building.

The Schenectady Republican had been Assembly speaker since 1937, and was familiar with the corridors of power in downtown Albany.

Maybe Heck helped fellow Schenectadian Owen M. Begley find his way on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 1958. That day, the Assembly and Senate opened the 181st legislative session, and Begley, who had served as the Electric City’s mayor from 1947 until 1952, was a new senator. But maybe Heck kept his distance; Begley was a Democrat, after all.

Owen had other things on his mind than directions. The business of the people was his most prominent concern.

“Begley sat in the Assembly well, packed with senators and assemblymen, including David Enders of Schoharie, who introduced the bulk of Schenectady legislation . . . as speaker,” wrote Rutledge E. Carter, covering the opener for the Schenectady Gazette.

Committee leaders

Begley and Heck were not the only local stars. The Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee included secretary Walter C. Shaw, chairman of the Schenectady County Republican Committee. Assemblyman Donald A. Campbell of Amsterdam headed the committee on state economy, Assemblyman John L. Ostrander of Saratoga County led the Industrial and Labor Conditions Committee, and Assemblyman Joseph Younglove, who represented Fulton and Hamilton counties, was in charge of the Natural Resources Committee.

“During the session, Schenectadians play vital roles in the traffic of the bills that ultimately become the law of the state,” Carter wrote.

Heck might have been the most famous Schenectady resident in the room. He would remain speaker until his death by heart attack on May 21, 1959. Heck’s 22 years in the position remain the longest time anyone has ever served as Assembly speaker.

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