New York Gets Boost With Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Rise to Majority Leader – The Wall Street Journal

Chuck Schumer will become the first New Yorker to serve as U.S. Senate majority leader later this month.

Photo: Cheriss May/Getty Images

Leaders in business, labor and government across New York are cheering U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s coming elevation to majority leader after Democrats won two runoff elections in Georgia.

Mr. Schumer, a 70-year-old Brooklyn Democrat, first won elected office in 1974 and was elected to the Senate in 1998. He will become the first New Yorker to serve as U.S. Senate majority leader later this month.

The majority leader’s perch will give Mr. Schumer the ability to steer funding for infrastructure projects like a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, and leverage to push policies that are of local concern, like easing federal limits on the deductibility of state and local taxes.

“Sen. Schumer has been tenacious defending the interests of New York City. He feels New York City in his heart, in his soul, but he’s also been a great leader for this whole country,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a cordial, professional relationship with Mr. Schumer, but they aren’t especially close, people who work with both of them said.

Photo: Barry Williams/TNS/Zuma Press

The Democratic mayor appeared alongside the senator in March to announce billions of federal dollars that would flow to New York through a coronavirus relief package. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week that Mr. Schumer and their fellow Democrats in Congress would be important in securing additional funds for the state.

The governor and senator have a cordial, professional relationship but aren’t especially close, people who work with both of them said. Two of the people analogized it to the Cold War policy of detente.

Josh Vlasto, a press secretary for both men who became Mr. Cuomo’s chief of staff in 2012 and now works at a public affairs firm, said Messrs. Cuomo and Schumer usually stay in their own orbits.

“One’s power center is in Washington, one’s power center is in Albany. But when they come together on an issue, they are successful,” Mr. Vlasto said.

Other people who know both men predicted there could be friction as the men compete for limited limelight. George Arzt, a communications consultant who worked for former Mayor Ed Koch, said the relationship between Messrs. Cuomo and Schumer could be tense at times. Former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato praised Mr. Schumer and said Mr. Cuomo might have to cede some of the spotlight to him, but he was confident the men could work it out.

Spokespeople for Messrs. Cuomo and Schumer both pointed to instances when they spoke warmly of each other in public, including an event that directed state incentives to Alcoa Corp. to keep jobs at its plant in Massena, along the Canadian border.

“Sen. Schumer has always worked hard and delivered for New York, and he will continue to do exactly that in his new position,” Angelo Roefaro, the senator’s spokesman, said in a statement.

Mr. Roefaro also promised the senator would continue visiting each of New York’s 62 counties at least once a year. The annual tour provides a local touch that can at times be hokey, but it has created a reservoir of goodwill around the state, according to elected, business, labor and party leaders.

Mr. Schumer has at this point visited so many venues in upstate Hamilton County (population: 4,434) that he once simply held a community meeting in a random gazebo, Mr. Vlasto recounted. He shows up uninvited to college graduations and delivers a stock speech. During appearances in the week before Thanksgiving, he retells the story that his father missed his Nov. 23, 1950, birth because he met a friend at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan and adjourned to a bar.

Surnames are often mispronounced at events. Mr. Schumer once messed up the number of the highway he had secured funding to rehabilitate. He would regularly reference a hospital executive in Albany as a doctor, though he had no medical degree. He once confused a Hudson Valley economic development official with a congressman.

People relate these flubs and flourishes not with scorn or annoyance, but rather with a smirk or chuckle. Even before he entered congressional leadership, Chuck Schumer had shtick—an intangible and invaluable asset in New York politics.

“He knows the medium is the message, and that’s that the senator came to town,” Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick said in an interview. “If I need something, even if it’s state related, I will call Schumer and Schumer’s office because they will do it.”

THE QUESTION: Before Mr. Schumer, who was the last New Yorker to lead a house of Congress?

—Know the answer? Write me an email!

THE LAST ANSWER: As of this year, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried is the longest-serving New York state legislator in history. The Manhattan Democrat has now been in office for more than 50 years, breaking a record previously held by the late John Marchi, a Republican who represented Staten Island in the state Senate from Jan. 1, 1957, to Dec. 31, 2006.

Write to Jimmy Vielkind at Jimmy.Vielkind@wsj.com

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Appeared in the January 11, 2021, print edition as ‘Schumer’s Rise Gives New York A Welcome Boost.’