Newly installed Schenectady County Legislature Chairman Tony Jasenski urged his colleagues to help him build on the successes of his predecessors and to work with one another in serving their constituents.
The Rotterdam Democrat was confirmed as the Legislature’s new leader by all 14 legislators attending its organizational meeting Monday. In taking the helm, Jasenski credited Susan Savage and Judy Dagostino — the two Democratic chairwomen who preceded him — for leading the Legislature during a 12-year period of job creation and economic development.
“I know I have some very big shoes to fill,” he said after his appointment. “It is my hope to not only replicate their success but to build upon the solid foundation they’ve left behind and to bring Schenectady County to even greater heights.”
Jasenski also pledged to build consensus on the Legislature, which now has three Conservatives and two Republicans among its membership. He urged legislators to work together for the good of their constituents and to avoid partisan stumbling blocks.
“All I ask of you my colleagues is to remain open to new ideas, think outside the box and to understand that there is more that unites us than divides us,” he said. “Stay firm in your convictions, but be open to compromise and exhibit not just a willingness but an eagerness to work together on issues that are important to our constituents.”
Jasenski, the retired chief of the Rotterdam Police Department, has served on the Legislature since being appointed to a vacancy in 2007. He replaces Dagostino, who did not run for re-election last fall.
Legislators also reaffirmed Karen Johnson — the longest-tenured member of the Legislature — as vice-chairwoman. Philip Fields, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, was appointed Jasenski’s deputy.
Gary Hughes was again appointed majority leader of the Democrats. Hughes reiterated the successes of his conference, ranging from a reduction in health care costs to the establishment of the Unified Communications Center to the construction of the new Glendale Home.
“Our conference pledged to do even more over the next two years,” he said. “We will share ideas freely, and while we have certain principles on which we will not bend … this conference will reach across all political differences and seek input from the minority.”
James Buhrmaster, who served two years as the Legislature’s lone Republican, was again appointed minority leader. He made light of his caucus of one — a situation that arose after the Democrats took a commanding 12-seat majority heading into 2012. There are 15 legislators in all.
“As most of you know I spent the last couple of years as the minority member,” he said. “My caucus was very easy. I stopped at a phone booth on the way in, caucused and on I went.”
Humor aside, Burhmaster painted a far less flattering picture of the county. He said taxes are crushing the county, businesses are struggling and the youth are leaving for lack of opportunity.
Buhrmaster joins fellow Republican Brian McGarry and Conservative Grant Socha as the new minority caucus. He cast doubt on whether the majority — a caucus of two conservatives and 10 Democrats —would truly involve the minority in the decision-making process.
As evidence, Buhrmaster said none of the minority members were allowed to head any of the 19 legislative committees, while two freshmen legislators with the majority caucus were given leadership positions . He said he was told by Jasenski that forces within the majority prevented him from naming anyone from the minority committee chairman.
“I’m hoping this isn’t a pattern. I’m hoping the door is open,” he said. “We have huge challenges ahead.”