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Hevesi leaving Senate post amid frustration with GOP

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For Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) leaving the state Legislature after four years in office is bittersweet.

Although he said he will miss working to improve his district, Hevesi will happily say goodbye to the partisan bickering and the Republican control that he contends have often paralyzed the state Senate.

Redistricting would have matched Hevesi, 32, against fellow Democrat Sen. Toby Stavisky of Flushing in another election run, but he insists Stavisky’s candidacy has nothing to do with his departure from the Legislature.

Hevesi represents parts of Forest Hills, Rego Park, Fresh Meadows, Kew Gardens, Briarwood, Oakland Gardens, Woodside, Elmhurst, Corona, Queensboro Hill, Flushing, and Pomonok.

“I can’t have the type of impact I want to have and type of impact the people in my district deserve,” Hevesi said in an interview last week. “Not only is it exceptionally difficult for minority senators to have a major influence, but it has gotten dramatically worse since I arrived on the scene.”

Hevesi declined to comment on his plans immediately after he leaves office but said he will run for higher office sometime in the future.

He also ruled out working for his father, Alan, if he is successful in his current bid for state comptroller. The older Hevesi served as city comptroller from 1994 until last year, when he was forced to step down due to term limits and failed in his attempt to win the Democratic nomination in the mayoral primary. His father was a member of the state Legislature for 22 years prior to 1994.

The younger Hevesi said he has been frustrated by Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Saratoga Springs), who he contends has enough power to control not only which legislation is voted on but often the votes of his fellow Republicans.

Those senators are beholden to Bruno because he hands out committees assignments and largely determines how much money their offices get, Hevesi said.

“Bruno decides what bills will come to the floor and what will not,” said Hevesi. It “is a system that is driven by compliance and seniority... Albany is stuck in the 1950s of smoke-filled back rooms.”

Without a major rewriting of the state Legislature’s governance rules, Hevesi said, it will be next to impossible for the minority party to pass even some of the legislation it wishes.

To make matters worse, the balance of power in the Senate is unlikely to shift as most districts in the state are either decidedly Republican or Democratic in their voting histories, Hevesi said. The Republicans currently have a 36-to-25 edge over the Democrats.

Hevesi blamed Republican control of the Senate for its failure to pass significant legislation on issues such as rent stabilization, prescription drugs, sex abuse in the clergy and senior issues, to name just a few.

“I’m all over (the Republicans ) about these issues and I have to go back to my constituents and explain to them why they can’t have redress,” Hevesi said.

Still, Hevesi said he has successfully pushed for some new legislation. In his first year, he said he helped get $39 million put back in the budget for state education that the Republicans hoped to cut.

He said he was also able to get a tough hate crimes bill passed, overcoming the Republicans’ opposition to strict sentences mandated for violent offense against homosexuals. Hevesi credited himself, too, for helping to achieve tighter gun control legislation and the Women’s Health and Wellness act.

“I believe I was as effective as anyone could be within the very unfortunate constraints that Albany unnecessarily places on minority senators,” Hevesi said.

The senator also pointed to several improvements he has made directly to his own district. Hevesi said he shut down loud summer concerts that were held at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills that were bothering many residents.

He also said he arranged to have more garbage pickups in Rego Park to clean up the community’s streets and had an extra traffic light put up on Parsons Boulevard in Flushing to reduce the accidents on a heavily trafficked area of the street.

Hevesi said he also organized educational seminars on fire safety, power, and crime and a program in which the Fire Department handed out free smoke detectors to local residents.

Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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