Onorato: 25 Years Of State And Community Service
State Senator George Onorato has been Western Queens' representative for about a quarter
the Gazette has been around) and says he's glad to see some long overdue changes in Albany since Governor Eliot Spitzer took office in January.
Onorato is sure the legislative climate would be even better if the senate could get a Democratic majority to go along with the Democratic governor, he said in a recent interview.
As a long-time advocate for workers' compensation reform, he said, "I was happy to stand with Gov. Spitzer when he signed a law in March raising benefits for injured workers and making other important changes in the system."
And as a member of the senate Minority Task Force on Legislative and Government Reform, he's hoping Spitzer's efforts to change the ways the government and legislature work bear fruit.
Onorato said he and his Democratic senate colleagues have been fighting for many years for a more accountable and open slate government, but have been disappointed at the lack of success under former Governor George Pataki.
"We've also been fighting for a more efficient and transparent budget process that provides the public and individual legislators with more input," Onorato said, and hopes that will occur with Spitzer as a governor.
Going forward, he said, his main goals are "One, to ensure that our city school children finally receive the equitable resources they have long been denied." Second, "We need to find innovative solutions to our state's energy needs- solutions that will provide us with adequate power while reducing pollution and ensuring that no single area of our state (like Western Queens) are inundated with generating facilities."
That comes as no surprise since Astoria and Long Island City are the locations of many power plants which meet about 50 or 60 percent of New York City's electrical power needs.
Third on Onorato's priority list is increasing access to health insurance for Ne York's many uninsured or underinsured children and families.
Finally, the lawmaker would like to see a continuation of legislative and budget reform "that will ensure that the people of New York are better served by their state government, which has in the past been called the most dysfunctional in the nation."
Earlier in his senate career, Onorato said, he experienced success and satisfaction on a number of issues. Among them was the already noted workers' compensation reforms.
"I was also proud when the EPIC (Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage) program was created to help low-income seniors and later expanded to cover more of the general population," Onorato said.
"I and other senate Democrats had pushed for this program for many years before it was adopted," he added.
Onorato noted: "Many times, even though I and other senate Democrats don't always get our name on new laws, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we were among the ones who fought to bring the issue to the forefront of public attention.
"For example, I was the first senator to sponsor so-called 'balance billing' legislation aimed at ensuring that seniors on Medicare weren't overburdened by high medical bills."
(The common practice in most legislative bodies is for a member of the majority party to take a popular issue that is proposed as a law by a minority party member and introduce it as their own.)
During his very first year in the senate, Onorato was a prime co-sponsor of the "Used Car Lemon Law" which protects the purchaser of a used car from being saddled with a seriously defective automobile.
Since then, he said, he had sponsored or co-sponsored many bills of importance to New Yorkers. These include laws to better monitor toxic substance recordkeeping in the workplace; provide sign language interpreters for hearingimpaired crime victims; improve enforcement of Family Court orders of support, and provide incentives for power plants to reduce emissions.
Onorato said he has also championed measures to combat child abuse, provide improved insurance coverage for maternity and breast cancer patients and advance prostate cancer research, education and detection efforts.
As a strong supporter of the EPIC program, Onorato is continuing to call for new legislation to curb the spiraling costs of prescription drugs.
He is also continuing to work with legislative colleagues to ensure improved educational opportunities for children. As such, he has sponsored a year-round "Read to Learn, Learn to Live" program to encourage young people to read more frequently.
Among his other priorities, he said, are greater protections against identity theft, further enforcement of dangerous sex offenders, greater aid to the uninsured, and addressing quality of life issues, including prostitution and graffiti.
Onorato, a graduate of Long Island City H.S., worked as a bricklayer and was a union official prior to entering the senate in 1983 when Anthony Gazzara resigned. He also served in the Army prior to his election to the senate.
Onorato began his political involvement when the late Ralph DeMarco, leader of the Taminent Democratic Organization, recruited many young men to join the club in 1950. Since then, he has served as the Astoria/Long Island City 36th Assembly District Democratic leader and chairman of the Taminent Board of Directors.
Onorato's election to the senate in June of 1983 was one of the most contentious contests in the Gazette's early days.
It came about with the resignation of then incumbent Senator Anthony Gazzara of Astoria, who quit the legislator's job to accept an appointment by then Governor Mario Cuomo.
Joining Onorato in seeking the legislator's job were Vinicio Donato, the chairman of Community Board 1, who ran as an independent, and Ted Demetriou, a Republican.
The contest turned into a really bitter fight, but Onorato, who had Taminent and its efficient members behind hin, won easily.
Besides his legislative duties, Onorato has contributed much to neighborhood civic and community organizations through grant funds secured from the senate.