In the pecking order that marks Albany’s power politics, Assemblyman James Tedisco of Glenville has fallen far.
Where only recently he was riding high as Republican minority leader and a favorite to win the 20th Congressional District race, today he is a rank-and-file member of the Assembly, having resigned as leader.
And on Friday he conceded the congressional race to Democrat Scott Murphy.
The question now is will Tedisco, 58, a former star basketball player at Union College, pick himself up, dust himself off and remain in the game as an assemblyman, or will he retire after 26 years?
Tedisco did not return a phone call for comment, but political observers were quick to offer opinions.
Peter Guidarelli, a Tedisco friend, says Tedisco will remain an assemblyman. Guidarelli is a Republican, a former chairman of the Schenectady County Legislature and a former candidate for Schenectady mayor. He also is interested in Tedisco’s 110th district seat should he retire.
“Tedisco has such a strong athletic and competitive background. As with anything, there are always setbacks, but he has always been able to bounce back and remain strong,” Guidarelli said.
Guidarelli added Tedisco can remain an effective assemblyman. “He has always been a guy with fire in his belly and I hope he keeps it,” he said. “Jim has always been effective because he has had a knack of grasping issues that cut to the core of what people care about.”
Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, who replaced Tedisco as Assembly Republican leader, said Tedisco has not given any indication of what his future is. Kolb said should Tedisco remain in the Assembly, he will be “absolutely effective” in his new role.
Brian Quail, chairman of the Schenectady County Democratic Committee, said he thinks Tedisco will leave the Assembly, sooner rather than later, once the votes in the 20th Congressional District are certified.
“It appears to me he is on his way out. Obviously, it is up to him to decide if that is the case. But there is a certain trajectory in play. The resources available to the minority leader are greater than those available to a rank-and-file member, and I have to imagine that that is a difficult transition for an assemblyman to make,” Quail said.
Russ Haven, legislative counsel with the New York Public Interest Research Group, said with few exceptions, history has shown that leaders in the state Senate or Assembly who lost their positions tend to leave within months.
“It is very hard to have been the leader and to have been used to calling the shots and to have been first among the conference and to now be a rank-and-file member,” Haven said.
Only Tedisco knows how he will deal with the transition, Haven said. “It depends on how he plays it. He is buoyant, with a resilient kind of public personality. He may well chafe at not being a leader, but he may try and carve out a role for himself, or he may look to the private sector.”
In the state Legislature’s system of government, the leaders of each conference wield tremendous power. “There are a lot of perks that come with the role,” Haven said.
The minority leader, for example, negotiates and disburses the budget for the Assembly minority. The leader also gets the best office, the best equipment and more staff. The leader gets to decide which committees Republican Assembly members sit on and which offices they get, and the leader controls the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, which deals with fundraising and distribution of funds. (On Thursday, Kolb confirmed that Tedisco had authorized chief of staff William Sherman to arrange for a $32,536 payment from the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee account in July to pay for Sherman’s expenses in a defamation lawsuit, The Associated Press reported. The story was first reported in the Times Union, which said it had received a copy of the check and a note from Sherman to the law firm saying the payment “is to be held in the strictest of confidence.”)
As leader, Tedisco had a staff of at least 10 in the central office as well as staff in his district offices. Today, he has one staff member in Albany and two full-time in his district office. He now occupies Kolb’s former office, Room 446 in the Legislative Office Building. Kolb, former minority leader pro tem, occupies the leader’s office, Room 933 in the LOB.
Tedisco served as leader for four years — representing two complete two-year terms. As leader, he was the voice of the Republican minority caucus in the state Legislature, its go-to guy on the budget and other issues. “He was effective in drawing attention to the fact that the minority was left out of the budget process. He was able to work the media effectively,” Haven said.
The caucus counted on Tedisco and his knack for recognizing issues and bringing them to the public’s attention to keep it from becoming marginalized, Haven said.
But then Tedisco set his sights on a different agenda — the 20th Congressional District seat. The seat opened when Gov. David Paterson appointed Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, to the U.S. Senate. She replaced Hillary Rodham Clinton, who became secretary of state.
Party leaders selected Tedisco to run for the seat, even though he did not live in the district. In initial polling, Tedisco held a substantial lead over Murphy.
Murphy quickly closed the gap, however, and had 399 more votes than Tedisco on Thursday as counting of — and squabbling over — absentee ballots continued in and out of court.
Haven said Tedisco’s problems with the Republican caucus accelerated during the congressional race. “The race coincided with critical budget negotiations where the Assembly minority was locked out of those discussions, not surprisingly,” he said.
Tedisco resigned shortly after the congressional race and just before the caucus voted, at the time expecting he was going to transition to Congress.
Haven said Tedisco was instead forced out, and his resignation helped him save face. “If you read between lines there were enough Assembly Republicans who were unhappy that he was otherwise engaged. With him focusing on the campaign, it meant the Assembly was left without a voice.”