Interviews & Profiles

Phil Boyle set his own term limits

The Long Island Republican resigned last month to lead the Suffolk County Off-Track Betting Corp.

State Sen. Phil Boyle said he was able to cross party lines, including in collaboration with Democratic state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, above.

State Sen. Phil Boyle said he was able to cross party lines, including in collaboration with Democratic state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, above. NYS Senate Media Services

State Sen. Phil Boyle said he would never serve more than 10 consecutive years in the same position – and he’s sticking to it. After two stints in the Assembly, from 1994 through 2002 and 2006 through 2012, and time in the state Senate since being elected in 2012, Boyle announced he would not seek reelection as he nears that 10-year mark. He resigned last month to take a new job as the head of the Suffolk County Off-Track Betting Corp. From his fresh vantage point outside of elected office, he spoke with City & State about his biggest hits – including the beagle freedom bill – and the benefits of keeping bipartisan relationships in a polarized political landscape. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Overall, how do you feel about your time in the state Legislature?

I’m proud of my time in the state Legislature, both in the state Senate (and the Assembly). One of the reasons that I got into government and politics as a young man was because I was always motivated by helping people. I know that probably sounds corny, but it’s the truth. And I found that being a member of the state Senate, I was able to help countless constituents, and other New Yorkers, and that always made me feel good to be able to do that on almost a daily basis.

A lot has changed in the past decade, and you’ve always been part of the more moderate wing of the Republican Party. How do you feel about the increasing polarization in Albany?

I think the polarization of politics today, on a state and federal level, is very unfortunate. But I think it has more to do with the personalities of the individuals that are in elected office than political positions. Because a lot of people say, “Well, it’s the extreme, the extreme left and extreme right. Those are the ones that are causing all the problems.” But I don’t find that because we have, for example, numerous colleagues of mine in the state Senate who would be considered very conservative, like George Borrello – he’s always working with Democrats from New York City on things that they can agree on. He’s probably got one of the most conservative voting records in the state Senate. And yet, he often has members from New York City come up to his district and teach them about agricultural issues. You have people like Julia Salazar or Sen. (Alessandra) Biaggi who were always willing to talk and listen to the other side.

Looking back at your time in the Legislature, what would you say has been your greatest accomplishment? What is the legacy you feel you have left behind?

I think anybody who’s in (an) elected position for any number of years are known for a few things. I’m probably most proud of my work, No. 1, on the heroin task force, having created that and being the first chairperson when I was first elected and it started in 2013. No. 2, the work I did to advance the use of forensic technology. Nobody else focused on that, to allow (familial) DNA forensic technology to be used in New York state. Ironically, given a recent court decision last year, that was thrown back. The Court of Appeals says that we cannot use familial DNA, which just about every other state in the country is solving murders and rapes all over the place with this, and New York is not allowed to use it. And also, thirdly, focusing on animal welfare, and happy to see some of the measures that I helped to get passed, both making it a felony to abuse animals, and also the Beagle Freedom Law, which requires that many animals that are being experimented on must be put up for adoption when their time is done in medical labs.

With this focus on animal welfare, did you work a lot with Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal? An Upper West Side Democrat and a Long Island Republican seem like an odd pair.

Linda and I have worked on a number of bills together. As a matter of fact, one year after the beagle freedom bill was passed, we were both honored by an animal welfare organization in the city. And in her speech, Linda said, “Phil Boyle and I are the dynamic duo of animal welfare.”

What went into your decision to take a new job and bring to a close your time in elected office?

Well, for one thing, 27 years of commuting to Albany – it was time for a change. And now at my new job, I have a 15-minute commute, which is a lot nicer. I’ve always been (in favor), ironically given my long tenure there, of term limits. The first time I ran for the Assembly, and every other time, I said I would never serve more than 10 consecutive years in this office. And I did. After I was elected to the Assembly, I served for nine years, then voluntarily stepped aside. And then I served for seven years, and I voluntarily stepped aside. Then I actually ran for state Senate, but not the same office, and it’s coming up on 10 years, and I voluntarily left the Senate. Also, not that I would consider myself old, but I’m looking for a new challenge. I’m 61 now, so I think of my predecessors. They both served into their mid-80s and they passed away within a year of leaving office. At some point in time I would like to enjoy a real retirement.

So you’ll still be working in government, but do you still plan to be involved in politics?

Oh, absolutely. I will definitely stay involved with politics, that is my true passion and one of the reasons I took the position I have – you can still be involved. Many people asked me to run for judge, to be on the bench. When you become a judge, you obviously can’t be involved with any politics whatsoever. But in my current position, I am very much involved, whether it’s on the town, county or state level – or even federal level.