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Economy is No. 1 issue for Onorato

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State Sen. George Onorato (D−Astoria) said the economy will overshadow all other issues when Democrats are expected to take the Senate from Republicans in January for the first time in 44 years.

Onorato, 79, who was first elected in 1983, will be in the majority for the first time come January following the Nov. 4 election, which put his party in control of the legislative body for the first time since 1964. One longtime Republican legislator from Queens − state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R−Glendale), 75, − lost his re−election bid and another Queens fixture, state Sen. Frank Padavan (R−Bayside), 74, is in the fight of his life to keep his seat.

“It’s a wake−up call for Republicans that people want change, not only throughout the country, but in the state, too,” Onorato said in an interview. “We’re hopeful that we can bring it about. We have some difficult times ahead that will be a test of our mettle. And we’ll have to make some tough decisions, but they have to be made.”

Onorato handily defeated Republican challenger Tom Dooley, a former city firefighter, 80−20 percent, during the election. The senator’s district covers Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside and a sliver of Maspeth.

Onorato said the economy would take precedence when the Democratically controlled Senate convenes in January.

“The economy is the No. 1 issue right now,” he said. “We’re going to be concentrating our entire efforts on that before we tackle anything else. That has to be our No. 1 mandate. Then we’ll start knuckling down on other legislation.”

He said he expects Democrats to push issues such as paid family leave, affordable health care and a variety of women’s issues once the economy rebounds.

“We’ll get through some of the bills we’ve been striving for,” he said. “We want to share the resources a little better than the Republicans did with us.”

Onorato said he hoped the election would signify not only a change of parties controlling the legislative body, but also a different approach to governing.

“We want to give committee chairs a real role and not have three men in a room making all the decisions,” he said. “And we want to give [the Republicans] a chance to do the same thing. They’ve denied us for the 25 years I’ve been there.”

The “three men in a room” system of governance refers to the governor, the state Assembly speaker and the state Senate majority leader’s meeting behind closed doors to negotiate issues facing the state.

Onorato said some of the other key issues for his district include cleaning up toxic neighborhood sites and providing affordable housing for seniors.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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