November 28, 2007

NYSUT mourns legislative pioneer Skuse

Source: NYSUT News Wire

Ray SkuseRaymond C. Skuse, a former state assemblyman who went on to build NYSUT's Legislative Department into a formidable, respected lobbying force in Albany, died Nov. 25. He was 87.

In 1971, Skuse joined the New York State Teachers Association (which merged with United Teachers of New York the next year to form NYSUT) to help the union improve relations with the Legislature and state agencies. By the time Skuse retired 27 years later, the union was considered by some Albany's most effective lobby group - able to influence the outcome of most bills it backed or opposed and propel many candidates to office, thanks to a sophisticated organization of phone banks, grass-roots lobbying and strong finances.

"Ray was the principal architect of NYSUT's lobbying operation and political action program," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin. "His vision was to achieve great things for the members through a non-partisan effort, with the union supporting members of the Legislature from both sides of the aisle. For Ray, what mattered was how well you supported NYSUT's members on issues of our concern for K-12 and higher ed."
NYSUT took big strides under Skuse's leadership.

"School aid increases were significant, and often greater than any other part of the state budget," said Lubin. "Teacher centers were created and expanded, the Mentor-Teacher program was put into statute, retirees' pensions increased regularly. He was a great negotiator."

Skuse went straight to work following his graduation from high school in Rochester. He relocated to Albany in 1956 and became active in politics. A lifelong Republican, he was elected to the Assembly in 1968 but defeated in his bid for re-election two years later.

Hard work

"Ray, without question, was one of the hardest working people I've ever worked with," said Herb Magidson, a former NYSUT executive vice president who worked with Skuse for eight years. "He was somebody, too, that many legislators would call for advice because he was someone who understood very clearly the inner workings of the Legislature."

Magidson said Skuse was "instrumental" in securing Excellence in Teaching money, increased pension benefits and pushing through the Triborough Amendment, which requires that terms of an expired contract continue until a new agreement is reached. Skuse also helped to effect the repeal of the Taylor Law's one-year probation penalty for striking public employees and in getting legislation passed to give substitute teachers the right to bargain collectively.

"Ray was in on all of those issues that were so important in establishing public employee unions and helping them to flourish and grow," Magidson said. "There are literally tens of thousands of NYSUT members who are better off today because of the work that Ray did."

Still, despite his influence and success, Skuse preferred to avoid the spotlight.

"I didn't want to be a public personality," he told the Times Union of Albany upon his retirement in 1998. "Legislative and political work is best done and not talked about."

And he was a gentleman. "He had a great sense of humor in addition to his toughness," Magidson said. "He truly cared about people."

Skuse is survived by his wife of 61 years, Lois E.; his son, Charles R. (Judith); two granddaughters, Amanda and Katherine; and four nieces and their families in Rochester.

Contributions may be made to the First Lutheran Church Abiding Memorial Fund, 646 State St., Albany, N.Y. 12203.

- Matt Smith