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ALBANY — When Democrats won control of New York’s government last year, riding a national wave of liberal energy, they promised to fundamentally transform the state’s economy, infrastructure and social norms.
As their first session in power ended on Friday, it became clear just how fully they had done so.
They rewrote New York City’s rent laws, passing the strongest tenant protections in decades. They unveiled one of the nation’s most ambitious climate plans, mapping a 30-year course toward a carbon-free future. They granted undocumented residents the right to driver’s licenses, gave farm workers collective bargaining rights and passed strict anti-sexual harassment laws.
And that was just in the last two weeks.
The partisan takeover in New York was not unique. Democrats flipped seven state legislative chambers last fall, leaving Minnesota as the only state with a divided legislature.
But even as officials across the country have harnessed their new monopolies to take their states further right or left, the speed and breadth of change in Albany stood out.
The transformation was not without its setbacks or detractors. Republican leaders dismissed many of the new laws as examples of an “extreme socialist” agenda; Democrats were unable to reach agreements on high-priority issues like legalizing recreational marijuana or ending solitary confinement.
Still, the presidency of Donald Trump, a surge of progressive activism and a particularly lengthy list of long-dormant liberal proposals — stymied by more than 50 years of near-continuous Republican rule in the State Senate — converged into a frenzied six-month spree that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, called “the most successful legislative session in modern political history.”
“It was a moment for change that we were presented with,” Mr. Cuomo said, “and we seized the moment.”
In a way, the session was about bringing the Legislature more in line with the majority of voters, who are clustered in left-leaning urban areas, and reinforcing the state’s reputation as a progressive bastion. New York’s laws have often fallen short of that notion, as suburban and rural lawmakers resisted many liberal-minded proposals.
For decades, that dynamic was kept in place by the way Albany operated, with most major deals emerging from secretive negotiations between “three men in a room”: the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader. That power structure was partially dismantled this year, with a woman, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, leading the Senate for the first time in state history, and a reconstituted Legislature independently passing a slew of bills after years of heavy-handed gubernatorial control.
Also for the first time, the Legislature was led by two African-Americans, Ms. Stewart-Cousins and Carl E. Heastie, the Assembly speaker. Indeed, the entire class of lawmakers was younger and more diverse than ever before. They projected camaraderie and openness, from quoting hip-hop lyrics while debating bills to holding the state’s first sexual harassment hearings in nearly 30 years.
On the floor, new lawmakers shared stories of surviving childhood sexual abuse, fighting off eviction, growing up undocumented or suffering from eating disorders.
The list of legislative accomplishments resembled a progressive wish list: new rights for voters, immigrants and victims of violence; reforms to the criminal justice and campaign finance systems; new gun control laws; and bans on plastic bags, toxic toys and offshore drilling.
For Albany veterans, the new assertiveness of the Legislature was a critical, and welcome, change.
“The session is being defined by the issues and priorities of the Legislature,” said Richard Brodsky, a Democrat who served in the Assembly from 1983 to 2010. “And that’s an earthquake.”
One of those priorities was election reform. New York joined 38 other states this year in allowing some form of early voting. Another was to ban gay “conversion therapy,” as 14 other states have done.
When New York passed its bill to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, it became the 13th state to do so.
“We’ve played catch-up on many issues,” Senator Jessica Ramos, a first-term lawmaker from Queens, said.
Other measures set New York on track to reclaim the mantle of progressive leader, by assuming bold positions that few others have adopted or by taking explicitly political stances against Mr. Trump.
Such was the case with the climate change bill, and limits on cash bail, which criminal justice reform activists called transformational. Lawmakers also passed a bill to allow Congress access to Mr. Trump’s state tax returns and to allow state prosecutors to charge people even if they had been granted a presidential pardon for similar federal crimes.
“America can look to us as a beacon not only of resistance,” Ms. Stewart-Cousins said in her closing speech on the Senate floor, “but of progress, and of hope, and of action.”
For Republicans, shunted to the minority in both chambers for just the third time in half a century, the results of the Democratic monopoly were grim.
“These are the priorities of the extreme socialist wing of the Democratic Party,” John J. Flanagan, the Long Island Republican who serves as minority leader, said. “They’re certainly not the priorities of the hard-working, middle-class taxpayers and their families who are being ignored right now.”
The Republicans’ diminished significance was but one of several vivid examples of how the political culture in Albany had changed this year.
In March, barely arrived lawmakers held an impromptu news conference in a Capitol hallway, calling Mr. Cuomo’s fund-raising practices hypocritical and possibly corrupt — a stunning challenge to a governor whom many fellow Democrats had often feared or avoided confronting.
Other Democrats seemed emboldened, too, sharing posts on Twitter that compared Mr. Cuomo to Mr. Trump or even raising the prospect of investigating him.
Progressive groups, who helped several insurgent candidates defeat a group of Democratic incumbents who collaborated with Republicans, suddenly found themselves with direct access to new lawmakers.
“For far too long in New York, our government was the best government real estate and Wall Street donors could buy,” said Bill Lipton, the New York director of the Working Families Party, a progressive third party. “Time and time again, the interests of the many were ignored, and the agenda of a wealthy few was enacted. That era is over.”
The passage of the rent laws was perhaps the most visceral example of the shift in power, as real estate executives — historically among the most powerful forces in Albany — were stunned to see the Legislature abolish rules that let building owners deregulate apartments and close loopholes that permit them to raise rents.
After the rent package was announced this month, the real estate lobby, which has donated millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Mr. Cuomo and other state politicians, arranged emergency conference calls to try and stop or at least blunt the legislation. But the governor turned his back on the developers.
Still, the real estate lobby is not without influence. A proposal to tax ultraluxury second homes in New York City died in March after developers applied pressure.
There were other limits to the remaking, too: In the final days of the session, disappointed activists asked why bills to decriminalize loitering or limit immigration enforcement at courthouses had not moved.
And despite promises of transparency, lawmakers voted on some of the most explosive issues late at night, with little notice.
“The muscle memory that you negotiate in secret, that you cobble together things at the last minute and jam it through — those are sort of time-honored Albany traditions that continue,” said Blair Horner, the head of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a longtime government watchdog group. “Albany is hard-wired to be a secretive place.”
Still, even on the so-called failures, advocates could claim some progress. In place of legalizing marijuana, lawmakers agreed to expand decriminalization of the drug, and Mr. Cuomo promised administrative changes to limit the use of solitary.
“The great reform didn’t happen,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic political consultant, speaking about Albany’s entrenched governing style. “But they came up with real things that matter to a large part of the electorate.”
What remains to be seen is if this year’s transformation is sustainable. Republicans and even moderate Democrats have expressed wariness of the pace of change, warning that it could make lawmakers in marginal seats vulnerable.
Suburban Democrats have already tempered some of the more progressive proposals. Driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants passed the Legislature without support from a single Long Island senator, after polls showed the measure was deeply unpopular there.
One of the most divisive issues of the year — Amazon’s decision not to build a second headquarters in New York City — set off intraparty tension, after many supporters of the project, including Mr. Cuomo, blamed the newly empowered Democratic lawmakers who had used their power to oppose the project.
Perceived threats of primary challenges, and differing opinions on the best tactics for pressing change, have turned private meetings of the Senate Democrats into shouting matches.
“The Long Islanders and some of the other suburban lawmakers in the Senate were pushed as far as — probably further than — they wanted to go,” said Lawrence Levy, the executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
Still, the progressive lawmakers and activists who fueled this year’s transformation vowed to continue pressing next year and beyond. They have already identified some long-serving Democrats for future primary challenges. They have promised to return for even stronger rent laws, legalized marijuana and an end to all cash bail.
In the final days of session, though, it was apparent how much they had already won.
Before the vote on the driver’s license proposal, immigrant rights advocates had assumed their familiar positions outside of the legislative chambers, staging a protest and demanding that the bill come to the floor.
On Monday, those advocates found themselves inside the chambers instead, celebrating and weeping as the bill passed. When they were shooed outside for cheering too loudly, they spilled into the hallway. The next day, they returned, to thank lawmakers for supporting the bill.
“There’s been a fundamental democratization of the kinds of people who participate in campaigns. I think there’s been a cultural shift,” said Susan Kang, an associate political science professor at John Jay College and a co-founder of No I.D.C. NY, a grass-roots progressive group that supported primary challenges against incumbent Democrats last year. “I don’t think that this year is a blip.”