What the First Woman to Lead a New York Legislative Chamber Might Change
By Kenneth Lovett
Poised to become the state's first female Senate majority leader, state Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins indicated Monday she will continue a tax on the wealthy.
After being unanimously selected by her Democratic conference to continue as leader, Stewart-Cousins was vague when discussing specific issues with reporters, but did drop some hints.
With a new Democratic majority set to take over the Senate in January, including 15 from districts outside New York City, the Yonkers Democrat has previously downplayed the likelihood of raising taxes in the coming year.
But on Monday, when asked about calls to extend and even expand taxes on the wealthy, she said the conference as a whole has not had a conversation on the issue. But she added that "the general sense is that the taxes in place will certainly remain."
The so-called millionaire's tax is set to expire in 2019.
Stewart-Cousins said the conference wants to hit the ground running when the legislative session begins in January by quickly passing many progressive bills that had previously been blocked by the Republicans.
With an independent commission considering pay raises for lawmakers and possibly linking them to reforms outlawing outside income for lawmakers, Stewart-Cousins again remained vague, though she did note the Senate Dems in the past pushed legislation to limit outside pay for legislators.
She also noted that her conference has previously pushed for additional gun control measures that would give parents and teachers the power to seek judicial orders to take away firearms from those considered potentially dangerous and banning so-called bumpstocks like the one used in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting.
"I think people have waited a long time for some of the very obvious things that we should have been doing as New Yorkers," she said.
Stewart-Cousins will also become the first women to crack the "three-men-in-a-room" triumvirate made up of the governor, Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker that negotiates the budget and key pieces of legislation.
She said her inclusion will better represent New York's diversity.
"Women hold up half of this state," Stewart-Cousins said. "The fact that there was never a woman in the room has always been something that was troubling."
Stewart-Cousins is poised in January to become the first woman to head a legislative majority conference in New York.
"This is an incredibly proud moment for me," the Yonkers Democrat told reporters after the closed-door vote to keep her leader.
The Democrats will control the Senate for the first time since a chaotic two-year period in 2009-10. But unlike a decade ago, when the Dems had a razor-thin majority, the party this time around will have at least 39 of the 63 seats in the chamber, including 15 new senators.
Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn), one of the few holdover Democrats from when the party last controlled the Senate, said the larger majority and the fact the state is in much better economic shape bodes well for success.
"It's going to be a better time and an easier time to manage and to govern," he told the Daily News.
For Sen. Brian Benjamin (D-Harlem), Stewart-Cousins becoming the first black woman to serve as majority leader at the same time Letitia James will become the state's first black female attorney general sends an important message.
"It's really important that people who support our party get to see their rise in the ranks," Benjamin said. "(Stewart-Cousins) is not there because of it, but it's a nice thing to have as well."
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