Colleagues, friends mourn late Assemblyman Magee

ContributedAssemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson, and state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, receive honorary plaques from the Oneonta Fire Department in this undated photo, supplied by Seward’s office. Shown from left are Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, Magee, Assistant Fire Chief James Maloney, Seward and Fire Chief Patrick Pidgeon.

Officials locally and statewide praised former Assemblyman William (Bill) Magee, who died Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24. 

"I can't say enough nice things about Bill," Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh told The Daily Star. "(He was) a perfect, unassuming gentleman who always delivered."

"Bill Magee was truly of man of the people," Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig told The Daily Star. "When you called him, he answered the phone personally. Without hesitation, he would get in his car and drive to Oneonta if you needed him. He was a friend of Oneonta's and he will certainly be missed."

Magee, 81, a Democrat from Nelson, represented the 121st Assembly District for 28 years. The district includes Cooperstown, Oneonta and most of the western half of Otsego County, plus Madison County and a small part of Oneida County. 

Magee had previously served as the town supervisor in Nelson, in southwest Madison County, and also worked for the New York State Fair. He was the son of daily farmers and owned and ran an auction house, Magee Auction Service, in Cazenovia. 

Magee was first elected to the Assembly in 1990 and served through 2018, losing to John Salka in 2018 by fewer than 500 votes. 

“Bill truly understood the needs of New York’s farmers and all his constituents and worked diligently in Albany to help them," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said in a statement. "He will be missed by all who knew him.”

Praise for Magee came from more than his fellow Democrats.

Retiring State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, whose 50th and then 51st district, overlapped with Magee's in Otsego County, said in a statement he found Magee to be a great partner in Albany. 

"While we came from opposite sides of the political aisle, we were partners in doing what was best for our farmers, schools, first responders and communities," Seward said. "Bill was always among my first calls when I needed an Assembly sponsor for legislation that would help our area — and he never hesitated to join me.

"Assemblyman Magee’s contributions to our region and the entire state will live on for generations to come," Seward continued.

Otsego County Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, also said he had good experiences working with Magee, in his current role and previously as the town supervisor in Middlefield. 

"Bill Magee was a sensible, moderate politician who always fought for farmers and tried to educate other legislators about upstate concerns," Bliss told The Daily Star. "He made farmers across the state a priority, and he successfully pushed to pass major legislation like the agriculture assessment tax cap.

"When I was Middlefield town supervisor, Assemblyman Magee helped us receive funding for several infrastructure projects and was a great friend to the Farmers' Museum Junior Livestock show," Bliss continued.

 

 

Tillapaugh said Cooperstown was going to honor Magee, as well as Seward, at the village's December meeting, which took place Monday, Dec. 28. 

Former Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz also praised Magee. 

"During my six years as mayor of Cooperstown, I never had to worry whether Bill was available or receptive or supportive of Cooperstown‘s needs," Katz told The Daily Star. "He was always there for us and he’ll be sorely missed."

"He was effective in his leadership role, but never blew his own horn," Tillapaugh said. "He secured the $1 million for Doubleday (Field) in the fall of 2018, but didn't want to announce it prior to the election, because he didn't think it was appropriate.

"Our Assembly district lost a great politician, who always worked on behalf of all of his constituents," Tillapaugh continued.

Magee's death was proceeded by his wife's; Jeanette Magee died in 2018. The couple had no children. 

Syracuse.com first reported Magee's death Saturday, Dec. 26; the story quoted his niece, Robin Blazer Commins, who said her uncle had recently tested positive for coronavirus, but was not showing any symptoms before he went into the hospital. His cause of death is unknown.  

“My uncle truly, truly, truly cared about his constituents,” Blazer Commins told Syracuse.com, “especially the farmers. He truly knew what the farmers needed.”

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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