I recently announced that I would be leaving public service at the end of 2022 and not running for re-election to the New York State Assembly. I have been asked over the years, “How did you ever decide to run for office?” Each elected official has their own path to run for public office and this is mine.
I was trained as an elementary school teacher. I first taught second grade in a little red schoolhouse in a rural area outside Charlottesville, Virginia, and then taught math and science to third graders in Scarsdale schools.
After five years of teaching, I had two children, and was a stay-at-home mom, but at the same time was actively involved in numerous community organizations. At the time I considered returning to teaching, in the 1970s, there were too many educators and not enough children being born to fill classrooms.
With teaching jobs limited, I decided to take a career development course given by the Junior League of Westchester-on-Hudson. If you are undecided about your life’s work, I recommend taking a career development course because it helped me by generating ideas for new job possibilities.
The instructor asked me so many questions about what I liked to do, it became clear that helping others and coordinating people for causes was my top interest.
During the course, I was reminded that I had entered government and run for office at an early age. I served on the student council in second grade in Mamaroneck as my earliest entry into government.
Later on, I was secretary of the White Plains High School senior class and secretary of my class at Purdue University. My school friends were not surprised that I ended up running for elective office, but frankly I was not planning on being a public official in my adult life.
After completing the career development course, political leaders reached out to ask me to run for the Westchester County Board of Legislators, which I pondered for weeks. I finally said yes, knowing that if I didn’t like being in government, I just would not run for re-election.
Well, after 13 years as a Westchester County Legislator, and now 30 years as a New York State Assemblywoman, I will admit that I have loved every minute of being in government. So much for my doubts.
In 1992, Al Myers, Cortlandt Democratic leader, was my big promoter in encouraging me to run for the New York State Assembly. I absolutely needed that push from Al and other supporters to leave county government and move onto the state level.
At that time, my children were old enough that I could travel to Albany each week, and my husband was very supportive. That was an important consideration in my decision to take on this new challenge and new state issues.
In each public office that I served, I found it so valuable to bring my experiences to the decision-making process from all the community services that I had been involved with over the years.
The idea that I could understand the unmet needs of child care, youth unemployment, medical services, libraries, and other areas through my volunteer work also led to my wanting to be an elected official. Instead of speaking at budget hearings and writing letters to advocate worthy causes as a resident (as I did prior to holding public office), I realized that as an elected official I would have a vote and be more impactful on important policy changes and funding of good programs. That was also a big factor in deciding to run for office in the first place.
It is hard to believe I have been able to be a part of so many positive changes during the past 43 years in public office.