ALBANY — Leaders of New York’s local governments, facing sharp revenue declines as a result of the shutdown of portions of the state’s economy last year, are infused with fresh optimism now that a familiar face is about to ascend to one of the federal government’s most influential legislative posts.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is on the cusp of becoming the Senate majority leader as a result of the victories by the two Democrats last week in Senate runoff elections in Georgia. The Republicans will also field 50 senators to match the Democrats, but Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will vote in the event of a tie, giving Democrats a majority in the upper chamber of Congress.
Stephen Acquario, director of the nonpartisan New York State Association of Counties, said Schumer is highly qualified for the prestigious role, given his ability to work with legislators and compromise if necessary to deliver results.
“I’ve watched his ability at legislating over the years and marvel at his instincts,” Acquario told CNHI. “The Congress has been in political gridlock for many years and he is the indispensable person that not only New York but the nation needs at this time.”
Schumer regularly crisscrosses the upstate region, making it a habit to visit all of New York’s 62 counties at least once a year, a routine that has given the Brooklyn native familiarity with scores of farmers, educators, first responders, union activists, artists and business operators involved in tourism.
At the ballot box, Schumer’s string of easy victories since first winning his seat in 1998 by defeating then-incumbent Sen. Al D’Amato have generated little press interest because polling data has cast him as the heavy favorite against challengers cast as sacrificial lambs.
With Schumer now poised to become majority leader later this month, it is unlikely he will have to fret about an aggressive challenge in a primary from a Democratic insurgent, said veteran New York political strategist George Arzt.
“The Democratic Party would not look kindly on anyone thinking about running a primary against Chuck,” Arzt said. Schumer is scheduled to face New York voters again in 2022.
Arzt said Schumer has been diligent in building his base of support.
“Chuck has never forgotten his roots,” he said. “You will find him at graduations. You will find him at parades. He is everywhere. He is firm believer in (late Democratic House Speaker) Tip O’Neill’s line that ‘All politics is local.’”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said this week that Schumer’s elevation greatly bolsters New York’s chances of the Congress and the incoming Biden administration approving a major federal bailout of states such as New York now facing large budget gaps.
Schumer will have to also address the needs of senators from across the country, however.
“I’m sure statements such as that don’t help Chuck,” Arzt said. “All it does is put him in a corner and raises expectations.”
Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin, a Republican, said Schumer will likely maneuver independently of any coaching from Cuomo.
“I can guarantee that Schumer is ripping over” public speculation on what might be delivered to state and local governments in any upcoming stimulus legislation before it is negotiated, McLaughlin said. New York’s senior senator doesn’t need to be “pigeon-holed” in advance, he added.
Schumer, at a press briefing in the aftermath of the Georgia elections, vowed financial relief from the COVID-19 pandemic will be a priority in the weeks ahead.
“Senate Democrats know America is hurting, help is on the way, and we have two new Senators coming to help,” he told reporters. “One the first things I want to do when our two new senators are seated is deliver the $2,000 checks to American families.”
Acquario said NYSAC is optimistic that, with encouragement from Schumer, the incoming Biden administration will focus heavily on what he called Jobs Act legislation to update infrastructure across the nation, invest in clean energy and broadband and lower unemployment through the creation of public works projects along the lines of the Work Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.