When New York State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (A.D. 95) announced in January 2022 that she would not seek re-election and retire at year-end — after nearly 30 years in the Assembly and 13 on the Westchester Board of Legislators — the news triggered a contentious primary contest, with all paths to victory ultimately running through the City of Peekskill.
Past Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey was the first to throw his hat in the ring. Citing his experience as Mayor and his work securing a $10 million DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) grant for the city, Rainey declared his candidacy within hours of Galef’s announcement.
“Andre Rainey is the future of the Democratic Party,” Peekskill Democratic Chairwoman Drew Claxton said at the time.
Shortly after, Ossining Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg announced her intention to run. Levenberg had served as Galef’s Communications Director and Chief of Staff for nearly eight years prior to being elected Supervisor in 2015.
Next to join the race a few days later was Westchester County Legislator Colin Smith, a past member of Peekskill City Council and Board of Education.
Rounding out the candidates was former Peekskill Council member Vanessa Agudelo. Her frequent clashes with fellow Democrats during her time on the Council led her to run for re-election to the Council as part of the Progress 4 Peekskill slate in the City’s June 2021 Democratic primary. The outspoken progressive stated that affordable housing and environmental issues would be priorities for her campaign.
The four candidates quickly got to work collecting the petition signatures that would secure them a spot on the June 28, 2022 Democratic primary ballot – a process which would result in the contest’s first elimination.
In April, Smith formally challenged signatures collected by Rainey, a standard operating procedure that campaigns use in hopes of disqualifying opponents. The state Board of Elections found that many of Rainey’s petition signatures were invalid due to either appearing on more than one candidate’s petition or inaccurate address information, leaving Rainey just six signatures short of the minimum needed to qualify.
“It’s a valuable lesson learned,” wrote Rainey on his Facebook page. “As disappointing as it may be, I’m being reminded by Colin and others that this is the world of politics.”
In May 2022, Rainey – and in turn, many Peekskill Democrats, including current Mayor Vivian McKenzie – threw their support behind Levenberg. The Ossining Supervisor’s lengthy list of endorsements included Catherine Borgia, Chair of Westchester Board of Legislators, State Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, and her former boss, Sandy Galef.
Levenberg’s momentum left Smith a distant third on primary night, with 19 percent of the vote. Agudelo finished a relatively strong second – garnering 34 percent to Levenberg’s 44 percent.
Levenberg celebrated her victory at Peekskill’s Bean Runner Café, a hub for the City’s Democrat influencers. At the celebration, she credited Rainey for “helping turn the race around.”
In the November 8, 2022 election that will determine who succeeds Sandy Galef, Levenberg will face Republican candidate Stacy Halper as well as Agudelo, who will be running on the Working Families Party line.
New York State’s 95th Assembly District, which the winner will represent, includes the Westchester municipalities of Ossining, Briarcliff Manor, Cortlandt, and Peekskill, as well as a portion of Putnam County.