Jim Tedisco, as everyone knows, is a Schenectady boy. Born in Ellis Hospital, raised in the city, a graduate of Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School and Union College. At the age of 27, the youngest person at that time ever elected to the Schenectady City Council.
Then, alas, he got himself elected to the state Assembly, as a minority Republican, and things began to change. He was a pesky member, showboating as if he were still on the basketball court at Union College, and at his first redistricting, the Democratic majority, in charge of drawing new lines, drew a line across the middle of Schenectady and left him with only half of his hometown, the other half to be represented by his less-than-bosom-buddy, Paul Tonko of Amsterdam.
It was a slap, all right. He had more of rural Saratoga County than of Schenectady.
By 2002, Jim found that he would have to win votes not only in his section of Schenectady but also in distant Saratoga Springs if he wanted to stay in office. He was equal to the challenge. He would not be so easily gotten rid of as that.
Now the lines are being redrawn yet again — it happens every 10 years — and if the new lines stand, Jim will be deprived of Schenectady altogether, which was made possible by the fact that a few years ago he belatedly got himself married and slipped across the Mohawk River to Glenville.
In the newest rejiggering, the city is carved up so that its pieces are in separate districts from Glenville. What’s more, he’s also deprived of Saratoga Springs, where he got to march near the front of the Flag Day parade every year, and as consolation he gets only Clifton Park and Halfmoon, which have no parades of any significance.
“I’m going to buy a mobile home,” he told me ruefully.
In the other parts of his district — Greenfield, Galway, Providence, Charlton, Ballston — he might have to walk for hours to shake a dozen hands. I told him he’s going to need a good pair of hiking boots.
He remembered years ago showing up at a Republican rally in a fire hall in one of these rural towns, when then-U.S. Rep. Jerry Solomon was orating, and in the middle of the speech someone stuck his head in the door and hollered, “Hey, Bill’s got a deer,” and everyone tramped out into the parking lot to see the deer tied to Bill’s pickup truck, before Solomon could resume his speech.
It’s a hell of a way for a city boy to have to run for office, but Jim has never been daunted by political challenges, however they come.
When I told him he might have to start over from scratch in cultivating the electoral terrain of Clifton Park and Halfmoon, he said, not at all. “They know me pretty well out there,” from his campaign for Congress in 2009, when he lost to Scott Murphy. “I made good friends out there.”
Whether these new Assembly and Senate lines finally take effect, we’ll have to wait and see. After some bobbing and weaving, Gov. Cuomo finally said he will veto them.
Nine hearings will be held, beginning Monday, at which indignant citizens can make themselves heard, and after that the Legislature can make adjustments of its own.
The new package was crafted in the usual partisan fashion by the Legislature’s own Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment rather than by an independent commission as the governor wanted, as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch wanted, and as Jim Tedisco wanted too.
It is generally acknowledged that the task force’s job is to protect the existing majority in each house, meaning the Republican bloc in the Senate and the Democratic bloc in the Assembly. With Democrats outnumbering Republicans 3 to 2 statewide, it’s an easy enough job in the Assembly but a challenging one in the Senate.
Given proportional representation, how do you guarantee a Republican majority in any house, even a razor-thin majority? Only with great creativity, sometimes called gerrymandering.
Another thought, what the devil do we need two houses for? The original European idea was an upper house for the gentry, a lower house for the plebeians. The American adaptation was an upper house for the states (two senators each, regardless of the size of the state), and a lower house for the people, proportionately represented.
But in New York both houses are based on proportional representation. In the Senate, each member in this latest go-around is supposed to represent 307,356 people (plus or minus); in the Assembly, each member is supposed to represent 129,089 people, all members serving the same two-year terms.
What’s the sense of that? Why not get rid of one house? That would be my civic-minded suggestion, if I were civic-minded.
Anyway, if the new districts do hold up, I will miss Jim Tedisco in the Flag Day parade in Saratoga Springs. Maybe I’ll catch up with him at a pancake breakfast in a fire hall somewhere.
Returning to the subject of Schenectady cops who are members of the Conservative Party retiring and immediately getting hired by the Sheriff’s Department, I’m sorry I have not been able to nail down some crucial details.
I reported earlier that Bob Hamilton, who retired after a career of working not so much as a cop but as union president, was able to get hired as chief deputy in the Sheriff’s Department because he was the only one who qualified to take the Civil Service test for the job. He was the only one who qualified because Sheriff Dom Dagostino, former Rotterdam cop himself and fellow Conservative, wrote the job requirements to match Hamilton’s curriculum vitae — eight years of law enforcement experience at the rank of lieutenant or above.
But those tailored specs had to be approved by the Civil Service Commission of Schenectady County, consisting of one Democrat, one Republican, and one Conservative, and I wondered how that happened. Why would three distinguished citizens ratify something so blatantly skewed to favor one candidate?
Very well, the Democrat (Gloria Leschen) and the Conservative (Mike Della Rocca) might be induced to go along, since the hirings are clearly part of a marriage between those two parties.
But the vote was unanimous. Why would the Republican, Richard Frigolette, go along?
I have had a request pending for a week now to speak with the three commissioners to ask them about this, and I’ve gotten no response.
There’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t force them to account for themselves. They are creatures of the Democratic-controlled county legislature and answer only to that body.
I also want to ask them why they didn’t request a Civil Service exam for Hamilton’s predecessor in the chief deputy position, Tim Bradt, who was another Rotterdam police retiree but one apparently not favored by Dagostino.
Bradt held the job on what’s known as a waiver, which is an exemption for a public retiree collecting a pension to return to public employment and, in effect, double-dip.
The state Civil Service Commission approved him only temporarily, ruling on March 17, 2010, that if the county wanted him to continue it would have to make a formal request for a test for him. “The Schenectady County Civil Service Commission failed to request an examination,” the state body reported on its website, and as a result Bradt’s waiver ran out and he had to leave his post at the end of August last year.
The next month, the test was given to Hamilton, as the sole candidate to meet the newly crafted job requirements.
Thus was Bradt forced out and Hamilton ushered in.
Why did the county Civil Service Commission participate in this maneuver? They won’t talk to me, so I don’t know. Maybe there is an honorable explanation. If there is, I will be happy to pass it along, but as things stand, it looks very much like a fix.