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Top Dem leaders laud Smith at York ceremony

With the lower level of York's Performing Arts Center filled nearly to capacity, guests listened as U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Rev. Al Sharpton, Lt. Gov. David Paterson and U.S. Reps Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) and Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) marked Smith's political ascension. Rev. Floyd Flake, the godfather of the southeast Queens political machine that produced both Smith and Meeks, was the master of ceremonies. And Nicole Paultre, who was to marry Sean Bell when he was gunned down by police on Nov. 25, was on hand to thank Smith for his support in the wake of the shooting.Smith, a former real estate developer, was elected Senate minority leader by his colleagues in October and officially took the post shortly after midnight on Jan. 1. But on Friday Smith was back in southeast Queens for a celebration of his political rise and what amounted to a Democratic pep rally.Smith, who gave a brief but fiery speech, compared some of his childhood jobs - which included delivering groceries, working at McDonald's and tossing pizzas - to his current post."Malcolm's not delivering groceries anymore," an impassioned Smith said. "He's delivering bills and legislation."Prior to Smith's speech, a high-profile game of musical chairs played itself out on the dais, as one prominent politician spoke, then left, only to be replaced by another.Originally Rangel could be seen chatting with Cuomo. After both men left, Sharpton and Schumer sat down next to each other, all the while flanked by Meeks and Crowley, who took over as the chairman of the Queens Democratic Organization in 2006. Outside of Smith, Rangel received the loudest applause of the night as the crowd recognized the recent Democratic takeover of Congress, a victory that gave Rangel the chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. For New York Democrats, who watched as Gov. Eliot Spitzer was swept into office promising to reform a political culture in Albany often described as dysfunctional, the last prize, perhaps outside of the White House, is a takeover of the state Senate.The old saying goes that politics in Albany are run by "three men in a room" and in that paradigm, the leader of the minority party in the state Senate is not particularly powerful.But to one man Friday, the prominent guests who came to offer words of encouragement for Smith looked forward to a day when he could be referred to as "majority leader."The Democrats have not controlled the Senate since 1965, but Republicans currently hold just a three-seat margin and a special election scheduled for next month in Nassau County could give the Democrats on additional seat."I'm Malcolm Smith and I'm the next Democratic majority leader" is how Smith capped the evening.Reach reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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