As state Sen. Bob Antonacci began a new phase of his career as a public servant, his wife Michele had a message for him.
"This is where you need to be," she told him as he stood, for the first time as a state senator, in the state Capitol.
Antonacci, R-Onondaga, shared the story and more about his first day of session in an interview with The Citizen Friday. He joined 62 of his colleagues for the first meeting of the state Senate this year. The chamber, which is now led by the Democratic majority, passed procedural resolutions to name officers and adopted the rules of the Senate.
For the first session day, Antonacci's wife and children joined him in Albany. The current state of his family is why he feels confident he can do the job effectively. His children are older now — his daughter, Jacqueline, will head to college in September — and he feels this is the right time in his life to be serving in higher office.
"It's good for me to be down there," he said.
With the start of the new legislative session comes a slew of committee assignments for Antonacci. He has been named ranking member of the Senate Banks Committee. The post will allow him to utilize his expertise as a certified public accountant and former Onondaga County comptroller.
The chairman of the committee, state Sen. James Sanders, had a conversation with Antonacci and expressed his desire to work together.
"It was a very nice gesture on his part," Antonacci said, adding that he invited Sanders, a Queens Democrat, to visit the Syracuse area.
Antonacci received other responsibilities. He will serve on the influential Senate Finance Committee, which is the chamber's lead panel in helping draft the annual state budget. Finance committee seats are usually reserved for veteran lawmakers, but Antonacci said he pushed for the role.
When asked if he was surprised that he received the assignment, Antonacci said he was. It was a seat he wanted because of his background as a county comptroller and CPA.
"I'm thrilled and humbled that leadership put that kind of faith in me," he said.
Now that the pomp and circumstance of the first day is behind them, the state Senate will focus on policy. On Monday, the Senate will vote on a package of election reforms that Democrats have long supported. When Republicans controlled the state Senate, the election reform bills didn't advance.
There are seven bills the state Senate will consider, including the adoption of early voting in New York and a constitutional amendment to allow same-day voter registration. Legislation to consolidate the federal and state and local primaries will be acted on along with measures to allow no-excuse absentee voting, pre-registration for minors, universal transfer of voter registration and closing the LLC loophole.
Antonacci supports closing the LLC loophole, a provision that allowed wealthy individuals to create several entities to circumvent the state's campaign finance laws and donate huge sums of money to candidates. He's also supportive of no-excuse absentee voting, which he argues could solve a lot of the problems proponents believe early voting would fix.
But his main concern with advancing the reform package is the timing. The bills, he said, were given to them Thursday night. Votes are scheduled for Monday afternoon.
"That's just silly," he said. "I would hope that we would not run our government that way."
There are two session days planned this week. The election reform package will receive attention Monday. On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his joint State of the State-budget address.
I wanted to dedicate some space in the column this week to thank all of you who read the tribute to my father-in-law last Sunday and contacted me to share your condolences. It has been a difficult period for our family — my father-in-law's funeral was last week — and it's going to take some time to adjust to our "new normal." Your prayers and positive messages have helped us cope with this tremendous loss.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for caring.