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Bob McMillanAn Opinion

By Bob McMillan
Presidents v. The Supreme Court

The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention.  President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd.  Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.

Michael Miller


By Michael Miller
1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing

Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination for Governor in 1958 was partly an upstate revolt against the continued domination of party affairs by the Nassau Republican organization. Rockefeller was a man who always had bigger fish to fry, and throughout his almost 15 years as governor, he often went out of his way not to step on the toes of the touchy Nassau GOP. That’s why Nassau is the only large New York county without a state office building. Respect the turf.

Just before taking office, Rockefeller announced that State Senator William Hults would be Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, but not until the end of the 1959 legislative session, so that Glen Cove, North Hempstead, Oyster Bay and a sliver of Hempstead wouldn’t lose their Senate representation until 1960.

Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’

The Nassau County district attorney’s (DA) office makes a cameo appearance in Empty Mansions, an incredible book about Huguette Clark (1906-2011), the Manhattan-raised heiress whose generosity and eccentricities were legendary.

Now that Ryan Murphy, a creator of television’s “Glee,” has optioned Empty Mansions’ film rights, I imagine a scrum of top actresses are vying to play Clark.

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages

In early 1946, a brouhaha erupted between the AFL and the CIO, the state’s rival federations of labor groups. Republican leaders in the state legislature endorsed the upstate-oriented AFL’s proposal that New York license and regulate barbers and cosmetologists. The downstate-oriented CIO, which had members who couldn’t document the required formal education, launched opposition so fierce and threatened political retaliation so severe that the legislation was considered dead. And then, as the 1946 session was drawing to a close and the CIO was concentrating on other things, the “barber and hairdresser bills” started moving through both houses, with almost total Republican support and Democratic opposition. Member of Assembly Genesta Strong, first-termer from Nassau County, dependable, safe and already expected to step aside, was asked to be the official sponsor of the cosmetologist licensing bill.

Governor Dewey’s signing of the bill cemented support for his re-election from the powerful AFL, which had been the whole point. To those in political inner circles, Mrs. Strong had proved herself a reliable team player whose dignity was useful in deflecting potential attack.

She proved it again with margarine.

Since the 1880s, New York law protected dairy farmers by banning the sale of colored “oleo” (an old word for margarine), on the pretext that consumers could be easily fooled and cheated if it looked too much like butter. In New York, margarine was an unappealing white, and housewives, or whoever, spent millions of hours a year mixing in yellow coloring.

For generations, a significant caucus of dairy farmer-legislators blocked free trade in margarine. Merchant, labor and consumer advocacy groups called for an end to the ban on butter-colored margarine. Dewey made it a priority in his 1952 legislative program, but farm organizations, including the Honest Butter Association, worked to keep the bill bottled up in committee.

On the evening of Lincoln’s Birthday that year, Genesta Strong stood at Desk 98 in the Assembly Chamber, the one on the aisle where she sat for 15 years, and with a few legislators from dairy counties openly jeering and a gaggle of newsmen scribbling away, she gave a pitch for the ages.

Wearing a large, bright yellow apron and holding a wooden spoon, a pan, a plastic bag filled with margarine and some color capsules, Assemblywoman Strong demonstrated the “needless, dirty, messy work” of making margarine yellow.

As the wispy Senior Citizen mixed, she spoke calmly about the details of the bill, about the consumer protections that were built into it, and about what a shame it was that women should be forced by the butter industry to do this work: “Isn’t it time this Legislature gave a little time to the women who are trying to keep their homes going?”

She spoke for half an hour, and she laid them in the aisles. Every daily newspaper in the state carried the story, and the colored margarine bill moved, and fast. What had been called “the Dewey margarine bill” was now Mrs. Strong’s law.

If she had been like so many of our present-day public officials, dancing like monkeys for attention all the time, it wouldn’t have worked.

That same session, Strong was also sponsor of a breakthrough law that allowed county governments to provide training programs for physically and developmentally disabled children, partly funded by the state.

The following January, Strong was appointed Chairman of the Public Health Committee, the first woman to head a standing committee in the State Assembly. At that time, that particular committee handled a lot of “feminine” issues, so for seven years her work in Albany was almost totally ignored by the press.

To understand the last piece of the story, you had to understand the margarine. The tale turns now to tax bills.

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