It’s nice work if you can get it: committee chairmanships in the state Legislature provide prestige and a bonus stipend. Some committees in the Assembly and state Senate are chaired by newer lawmakers, but a few lucky legislators have held onto their chairmanships for decades, albeit sometimes with a brief interregnum while the party in power changed hands.
However, according to Bruce Gyory, an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Albany who worked for several governors, having long-serving committee chairs has its advantages.
“When you have a committee that requires great technical expertise and policy knowledge – the health care committee comes to mind – it pays policy dividends to have a chair that has that kind of knowledge base and is steeped in it,” Gyory said, referring specifically to Assemblyman Dick Gottfried and state Sen. Kemp Hannon, the long-serving Health Committee chairmen in the Legislature.
Although New York has had problems with corruption among its Assembly and state Senate majority leaders, Gyory doesn’t think that extends to long-serving committee chairs.
“We haven't had in New York the longstanding chairs who've been tyrants, they've been more really policy savants who put their nose to the grindstone,” he said.
The longest-serving committee chairs are all men, and primarily white. But while a case could be made for injecting new blood into committee leadership positions, Gottfried believes that his experience is a benefit.
“It helps to have chaired the committee through Governors from both parties, and through constant changes in problems, policies, and budgets. You don’t want a whole team of people who remember the earliest days of the HIV epidemic, or how the State used to regulate hospital prices – but having one or two of us at the table is useful,” Gottfried wrote in a statement provided for City & State.
In recent years, there has also been greater turnover in state Senate committee chairs than there has been in the Assembly, primarily because of the brief time from 2009 until 2010 when the Democrats gained power in the Senate. When Republicans regained their majority in 2011, several committee chairs were reinstated to their former positions.
Here are the longest-serving committee chairmen – emphasis on men – in the Assembly and the Senate:
Health Committee – Assemblyman Dick Gottfried has served as chair since 1987.
Codes Committee – Assemblyman Joseph Lentol has served as chair since 1992.
Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry Committee – Robin Schimminger has served as chair since 1997.
Agriculture Committee – Assemblyman William Magee has served as chair since 1999.
Transportation Committee – Assemblyman David Gantt has served as chair since 2001.
Higher Education Committee – State Sen. Kenneth LaValle served as chair from 1979 until 2009, and then again from 2011 until the present.
Health Committee – State Sen. Kemp Hannon served as chair from 1995 until 2009, and then again from 2011 until the present.
Insurance Committee – State Sen. James Seward served as chair from 1999 until 2009, and then again from 2011 until the present.
Judiciary Committee – State Sen. John Bonacic has served as chair since 2011.
Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee – State Sen. John Bonacic has served as chair since 2011.
CORRECTION: This article previously misstated the committee that state Sen. James Seward chairs.