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In Memory Of Dan Walsh

Recently there was an article announcing the final burial arrangements for former Assemblyman Dan Walsh of Cattaraugus County. “Old timers” will remember Dan’s first campaign for the Assembly in 1972 when he walked across the 149th Assembly District asking for votes. He was elected–the first time since 1912 that a Democrat had held the position.

It seems like eons ago, but Dan soon became a leader in Albany. In 1975, the year after I was elected, Dan was elevated to be Chairman of the Agriculture Committee. It wouldn’t be long before he would be made Majority Leader.

By early 1974, I had gotten to know Dan better, and he urged me to again run for the Assembly from Chautauqua County’s 150th District. It was late in the winter when he invited me to accompany him to the State Capitol to meet some of his colleagues. Unfortunately, we hit one of those fluke snowstorms which closed the State Thruway. So, Dan and I had to spend our first night on that trip in a Holiday Inn in Batavia waiting for the road to open. You get to know someone pretty fast when you are locked up in a bar and restaurant for hours waiting for the snow to stop.

There is a country song which goes: “I’m just a common man, drive a common van…” and I always felt that was the secret of Dan’s success. He had gone to Bonaventure, was a great athlete and had become a teacher in Franklinville. He loved the game of golf. But, his greatest gift was his Irish wit and down-to-earth demeanor. I never met anyone, even if they didn’t agree with his politics, who didn’t like Dan Walsh.

There were times, when Dan was Majority Leader, that he would look across the aisle at me with sort of a scowl on his face because I would be voting against something that the leadership wanted. But, it never really fazed him, and we continued to be good friends during all the time I was in the Assembly.

I would never have predicted it, but Dan eventually left the legislature to become Chief Executive at the New York State Business Council. Dan had always kept a good ear on the pulse of legislation, and that meant keeping an open mind toward the needs of business and industry in the state. In his own quiet and effective way, he was able to advance those interests in a state not often known as being pro-business.

Some of Dan’s best friends in the legislature were from New York City and they were Irishmen. You would often see them conversing in the back of the chamber trying to figure out some common ground between downstate and upstate interests.

There is something about the Irish which make them good politicians. On the floor of the legislature those who were Republicans could have pretty harsh words for the city Democrats, but Dan would often find a way to bring them together. Of course, on St. Patrick’s Day, they would all be good buddies singing the same songs and drinking Irish beer.

Back here in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties, Dan never had a problem getting elected. He used a political ad at election time which said it all: “Walkin’ Dan Walsh works for you in Albany.” That was what mattered to the people back home.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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