Democrats in the state Senate on Monday unanimously voted Andrea Stewart-Cousins the first woman to lead a major conference in the history of New York state government, ahead of a 2019-2020 session in which the party will have control of the governor's office and both legislative chambers.
The vote ensures the Yonkers lawmaker will make history when the full legislature convenes in January. She was already the first woman of color to lead a legislative conference in Albany when her colleagues elected her leader to replace John Sampson in 2012.
Democrats will take control of the state Senate in January for the first time in a decade. They are expected to control at least 39 of the Senate's 63 seats. Democrats won the Senate majority in this month's elections, eliminating the Republican Party's last bastion of political power in state government.
Stewart-Cousins selected State Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens as deputy leader, and State Sen. Joe Serrano, who represents parts of the Bronx and Manhattan, as conference leader.
She said in a press conference Monday afternoon that she plans to meet with State Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn about joining the Democratic majority. Felder has, since he was took office in 2013, caucused with Republicans in the upper chamber.
The current Senate majority leader, John Flanagan, congratulated his Democratic counterpart and said he hoped the parties will work together to help the state's economy:
A VOICE IN 'THE ROOM' WITH THE GOVERNOR AND ASSEMBLY SPEAKER
Stewart-Cousins narrowly lost her first bid for the state Senate in 2004, facing the longtime Republican incumbent Nick Spano that year. Two years later, she won the rematch race. Stewart-Cousins has led the Democratic minority since 2012.
Stewart-Cousins will be the first woman in "the room" — Albany parlance for the top-level leaders meeting with the governor and state Assembly speaker — giving her a voice in the state budget negotiations and the final shaping of legislation.
She will enter the majority leader's office with a large majority that is expected to lead to the quick passage of measures long sought by Democrats in New York, including the DREAM Act, voting reforms, and a strengthening of abortion rights.
However, it is also expected to come with challenges. The conference is a diverse one, with members from Western New York, upstate cities, the Hudson Valley, suburban Long Island, and the five boroughs.
Unity hasn't been easy for Democrats to achieve in the past, though the conference's leaders have long asserted the dysfunction that plagued the 2009-10 majority is gone.
Stewart-Cousins herself was elected leader six years ago in part because of her district's geography: A large downstate city with suburban concerns, bordering New York City but not in New York City. It's a balance Stewart-Cousins says she knows she has to maintain.