Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Senator Betty Little and a Prelude to a Coup

“How are things in Albany? They’ve probably never been worse,” Betty Little said at an early morning breakfast in Saranac Lake Friday.

Making no attempt to mask her frustration with the Democrats’ ineffectual five-month-long reign over the New York State Senate, the Republican who represents much of the North Country was pessimistic as she gave an audience of Saranac Lake’s political, health-care, education and economic-development leaders her take on the situation in state government. She did not allude to any plans for a Senate takeover, but the candor of her remarks made Monday’s news of Republican blowback in the Capitol a bit less of a surprise.

Little was joined by Republican assemblywomen Janet Duprey and Teresa Sayward. All three represent Saranac Lake, which straddles two assembly districts.

The impending closure of Camp Gabriels minimum-security prison is draining a hundred jobs from the area. The inmates are moved out, and only a dozen or so guards and administrative staff remain on duty to shutter the place by July 1. The village got little encouragement on a reuse strategy for the facility.

“I mean there really is no money. We’ve got to face that,” Little said, complaining that the $132 billion budget passed by Democratic governor David Patterson and both Democrat-controlled houses of the State Assembly failed to reduce spending.

The three said executive-branch staff are in such flux that’s it’s difficult to know who the go-to people in state government are. Even things like the senate’s schedule are hard to divine, Little said. There are two weeks left in the session, but she doubted the Democratic leadership would stick to the deadline. Now it looks like the session might be prolonged no matter who is in charge.

“We’re spending a lot of time now trying to correct what was done in secret,” Little said, citing changes to Empire Zone rules and a new law that would allow drug offenders to seal drug-crime records if they feel that they have been rehabilitated of an addiction. “The new process seems to be put forth a proposal, vote on it and correct it because nobody has had a chance to look at it.”

Inevitably Senator Little was asked what she thought of New York’s 23rd District congressional seat, being vacated by Republican John McHugh, who is nominated to become Secretary of the Army. There are only three Republicans representing New York State in Washington, Little noted. “It could have been four. I have to say I know I could have won that seat,” she said, referring to the 20th District, where Democrat Scott Murphy just won a special election to replace Kirsten Gillibrand, who had been appointed to the U.S. Senate. Saranac Lake is split between the two districts.

In an acknowledgement of dysfunction in her own party, Little called for an “open process” and polling as GOP leaders begin choosing a candidate to replace McHugh. The Republicans must pick a person who can win the seat, not just a person who wants it, or else the party could be redistricted out of the state, she warned. In the 20th District party leaders reached over Little to select James Tedisco, the opportunistic former assembly minority leader, who did not reside in the district.

Congratulating St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation Center in Saranac Lake for being named one of the top 20 places to work in New York State, Assemblywoman Duprey added, “Where we’re working is not.”

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Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.




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