The great Al Smith is one of my political heroes.

Both of us were born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and both of us were raised by immigrant parents and "cut our teeth" through the New York immigrant experience.

I represent the same Assembly District that Al Smith represented back in the early 1900s … and both of us were elected by our peers to serve as Speaker of the Assembly.

We are part of this city's legendary Liberal, Democratic tradition; a tradition that ultimately fueled Al Smith's election as governor and his race for the presidency.

When challenged for his politics, Al said something that has stuck with me to this day. "My idea of law and democracy is the expression of what is best, what fits the present day needs of society, and what does the greatest good for the greatest number." Is there a better definition of government?

Al was deeply affected by the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire - a tragedy that we in the State Legislature commemorate every year.

As a Member of the Assembly, Smith fought for legislation intended to make factories safer … to limit the working hours for children and for women … and to support workers who were injured on the job.

I am proud to say that … to this day, the Assembly leads the way in fighting for fairness for working people and for the health, safety and welfare of our workforce.

Al Smith, like the Assembly today, was an ardent champion of immigration … of education and adequate public health … and believed they were the keys to economic prosperity.

Given what is happening on Wall Street now … and given the debate in Albany regarding the taxation of millionaires … students of Al Smith will find his thought on great wealth to be especially appropriate now.

In the 1930s, then-Governor Al Smith - who was a great believer in a strong Executive but who clearly understood the importance of the Legislature, said these words …

"What do we say about our colleagues who reject an income tax amendment? What do they say. They rejected it. Why? They are unwilling to say that great wealth ought to bear is share of the burden of government. They were unwilling to subscribe to the indisputable principle that he who benefits the most, should pay accordingly."

A hard point to deny when so many hardworking families are struggling and the Middle Class is disappearing.

Unfortunately, the great Al Smith, this son of Irish immigrants, would encounter a tidal wave of anti-Catholic bigotry during his race for the presidency … and historians say that it changed they way he saw his country.

To me, Al Smith was a true American success story … a great New Yorker who was not afraid to speak the truth to power … and unquestionably, a man before his time.