The senator then took the stage, dressed in black with a shock of color, courtesy of a purple and gold scarf (a Stewart-Cousins trademark).
The crowd of nearly 60 listened as the Yonkers native spoke of how she and her friend, Westchester County Association president Bill Mooney, often came down on opposite sides of the issues throughout the years.
"Bill and I were often on opposite sides, but, that was okay with me because I knew we were both working hard for our constituents. The truth is that in life, nothing is black and white, it’s all shades of grey," she said.
From the Phone Company to the State CapitolAs a young woman, Andrea Stewart-Cousins held long-term jobs at New York Telephone and AT&T, had a short stint as a writer with Gannett, and eventually returned to school as a young mother to obtain her teaching credentials. Politics wasn't on her radar screen until she helped a friend run for office in Yonkers. The campaign was successful, and several others were swept into office as a result.
It was then when she realized that a woman of color could not only be elected, but indeed, could make an impact. Not long after, the mayor appointed Stewart-Cousins as director for Community Affairs in Yonkers, Westchester's largest city and the fourth largest in the state. "[Public service] wasn’t my aim in life, but I entered anyway," she noted.
Stewart-Cousins recalled that "growing up as African Americans, the opportunities that came to my family were through government." Her father, a purple heart recipient, returned from World War II and was given public housing; her mother, an accomplished legal secretary who couldn't find a job in the corporate sector, found one in government. Stewart-Cousins received her education in the public schools.
"If public schools are there for someone like me to climb the ladder, then we need to take care of them," says the Senator. "When I got to the State Senate, I realized that we all bring our experiences with us," says Stewart-Cousins, who is expected to focus on safety net issues.
After a successful tenure as a Westchester County Legislator, Andrea Stewart-Cousins was elected to the New York State Senate in 2007 when she unseated the Republican incumbent Nick Spano. Almost immediately thereafter, the recession of 2008 hit hard. "I thought we’d have more resources, but frankly the money wasn’t there and we had to do very difficult things. We still have to do difficult things--but we need to focus on important things," she said.
Economic Development and the 2% Tax CapOn economic development, Stewart-Cousins says that "taking incremental steps leads to big things." She supports Governor Cuomo's approach to regional economic development and is pleased that New York Medical College was awarded $3.2 million for their strong plan to build a biotechnology incubator. "There is no other place regionally to learn about infectious disease and bio-terrorism.They do important work."
When Amy Allen, managing director of Advocacy and International Trade for the Westchester County Association, pressed the senator on whether or not the state's 2% property tax cap would be rescinded, Stewart-Cousins assured her it would remain intact. "The tax cap is going to remain due to the (the State's) deficit." The tax cap was the first major law Governor Cuomo pushed for; it was enacted by two houses and won't likely change, she noted.
There will be some pain ahead for the disabled and for their healthcare providers as New York State will take away a significant chunk of funding from the Offiice of Disabilities to the tune of $120 million this year. "When you consider that we had matching funding from the Feds, it's really a loss of $240 million," said Stewart-Cousins.