University at Albany

At Home Behind the Scenes:
Q & A with Brian Coyne, MPA ’87
Director of Legislative Operations, NYS Assembly

For more than a quarter-century, Brian Coyne has worked in an institution he loves, the New York State Assembly. He often jokes about being in the same office with the same phone number that he walked into as a Rockefeller College graduate intern back in 1987.

Such longevity within an organization is indeed rare these days. Though his surroundings may not have changed much in the last 25 years, the scope of his duties certainly has. Today, he serves as advisor to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Majority Leader Ron Canestrari. He directs floor operations for the 150-member Democratic-led body and oversees staffers involved in just about every aspect of Assembly activities, from crafting bill introductions to providing security for the chamber. On any given day you can find him juggling dozens of tasks as he tries to meet the various and constant needs of legislators and keep Assembly operations running smoothly. We grabbed him for a quick conversation about why he chose the career path he did and what advice he might have for students interested in following in his footsteps.

What brought you to Rockefeller?

Brian: I have a bachelor of arts in political science from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. I wanted to do something that was more applied, and that's what brought me to Rockefeller College. I came to Albany thinking that it was a great laboratory for participatory involvement. My degree from Rockefeller is an MPA with a concentration in legislative administration. When I was at Rockefeller I really thought about legislatures as an institution and I focused on institutional and organizational behavior. My role today is remarkably plugged into the things that I cared about and studied at Rockefeller College.

What sparked your interest in this area?

Brian: I was always interested in politics and political participation and the way people from all over come together to collaborate and make decisions in a group setting.

What are your responsibilities as Director of Legislative Operations?

Brian: I coordinate the day-to-day activities of the Assembly Majority on the floor — what’s the order of business, what are we arguing, what are we doing or not doing, when we are doing it, how we are doing it … People think of me as the floor manager. I’m the person sitting next to the majority leader. I’m privileged to sit as a staff person and to help coordinate the work of elected officials. In addition, I oversee the staff of the majority leader’s research office who work with me to manage the sessions. I also oversee the Journal Office that runs the desk and the Index Office that produces all the bill materials in a timely manner. And I coordinate the Document Room, the official reporter, and the Sergeant-at-Arms staff. When I train staff, I tell them we are the behind-the-scenes people who help make this work. We aren’t the people who are elected and make this work. We help, but we’re not the elected officials. That’s important. We revel in our obscurity.

You’ve come full circle. You started as an intern and now you have the opportunity to hire interns from Rockefeller College. What does that feel like?

Brian: It’s one of the most satisfying parts of my job. The Assembly has a very active graduate intern program that we use very successfully to bring in people who are interested in working in this institution. Through the years I’ve been privileged to have a wide range of interns who’ve gone on to do wonderful things. I had an intern who is now the chief of staff for the president of Sierra Leone. Now that’s cool! That’s the great part of this job.

Do you have any advice for students considering careers in government, politics, or legislative affairs?

Brian: They should come to the Legislature and try to participate through one of the various programs that exist, whether it’s a weekend program with the League of Women Voters, or it’s through an Assembly internship or another program. Just come here. If a person has any interest in working to solve the problems of their communities or their state, where they’ll find the best example of that happening is right here in Albany in the New York State Assembly.
It is amazing!

Are you satisfied with the career choice you made?

Brian: I’m very lucky. I couldn’t have anticipated that it would have been such a long and consistent run. I’m pleased with the education and opportunities that Rockefeller gave me. The legislative environment is dynamic. Every year it changes. Every day it changes. For me, every decade it changes. It’s very satisfying.