The public’s perception of James Tedisco may be as the tough-talking Assembly minority leader constantly warring with state Democrats.
Friends and constituents say there’s definitely something to that image, but there’s more to Tedisco than the scrappy underdog you see on TV.
Imagine him beginning his day scooping dog poop.
“That brings me down to earth right at the beginning,” said Tedisco, cleaning up after his Welsh Corgi and Jack Russell terrier.
The 58-year-old — for decades a bachelor — married his long-time girlfriend Mary Song in November. He lives in Glenville with her, two dogs and two cats.
“They’re all ladies,” Tedisco said, so he’s the minority leader at home as well as at work.
Not that it ever gets him down. At work, Tedisco seems to thrive on sparring with state Democrats.
Tedisco helped defeat former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s effort to make it easier for illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. He also sparred with Gov. David Paterson about a proposed tax on soft drinks and a proposed tax on downloadable music.
“Call him the Energizer Bunny, and I’ll tell you it really fits,” said state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, who has known Tedisco for about 30 years.
If he gets to Washington, Tedisco is likely to be just as outspoken there as he has been in Albany, Farley said.
“I don’t see him being quiet for long. As a matter of fact, I see him as a kind of national spokesman,” he said. “I really believe that Washington has really never seen the likes of him when he gets there.”
Tedisco comes by his strong will honestly.
He said when he had to convince his independent mother, Beatrice, to stop driving a few years ago, he knew he’d have to reach deep into his bag of tricks.
“I said, ‘The New York State Legislature passed a law,’ ” Tedisco recalled, adding that he told his now 93-year-old mother a new law banned driving for motorists who need three pillows to reach the steering wheel.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Those darn Democrats,’ ” Tedisco said with a chuckle.
Tedisco grew up in Rotterdam, attended Draper High School and then Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons in Schenectady, where he graduated in 1968.
A standout basketball player in high school, Tedisco went on to become the co-captain of the team at Union College, where he received his degree in the early 1970s.
Gary Walters still follows Tedisco’s political career, decades after Walters coached Tedisco in basketball at Union.
The college All-American was a great dribbler and shooter, said Walters, who now is director of athletics at Princeton University.
Because of Tedisco’s skill, Walters was toughest on him, he admitted. “I was almost impossibly demanding. We had our battles of wills.”
“But thankfully because I had the support of the team, and thankfully because he understood the importance of the team, we were able to work together effectively. I have nothing but the utmost admiration for the guy.”
One political independent describes Tedisco as an accessible leader who is willing to break rank with his own party to do what he thinks is right.
That’s what Jennifer Leidig saw when she lobbied in 2004 for the New York City Ballet to stay at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the summer.
“The board of directors and the ‘powers that be’ at that point were very wealthy and many were Republican,” she recalled.
So neither the Republican mayor, Republican-heavy Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and Republican county Board of Supervisors attended a Save the Ballet rally at the library that year.
But Tedisco was there.
“We had invited all our elected officials, and the only Republican that showed up was Jim Tedisco,” she said.
“Jim Tedisco ignored the pressure that he received from his own party and his financial contributors and he stood with us that night.”
Leidig said Tedisco is surprisingly accessible.
“He gives out his cellphone. That is unheard of at the level he is at. And he picks it up.”
Unlike other lawmakers in Albany who held other jobs while representing taxpayers, Tedisco has been a full-time assemblyman for 26 years.
“This is a full-time job if you want to really do it seriously,” Tedisco said. “Congress is going to be a full-time job.”
He was a special education teacher for five years at Bethlehem Central School in Delmar before he started his political career, and also served as the youngest member of Schenectady City Council when he was in his 20s.
Tedisco’s late father, Nicholas, was a foundry worker at General Electric for 40 years. Tedisco’s brother, Tom, lives in Guilderland and is retired.
His other brother, Joey, had Down Syndrome and died of childhood leukemia.
Joey was Tedisco’s inspiration to teach special education.
“He taught us the importance of respecting that everybody has differences,” he said.