BCW Key Bank Speakers Series Hosts NYS Senate’s New Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
New York State Senate’s New Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins spoke to a packed house at The Business Council of Westchester’s Key Bank Speakers Series “New Year, New Era: Powerful Women” on January 25. The breakfast program at Tappan Hill in Tarrytown drew more than 250 people.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer and BCW President and CEO Marsha Gordon were among the speakers who paid tribute to Stewart-Cousins and applauded her leadership with her recent rise to Majority Leader of the New York State Senate.
Stewart-Cousins spoke with passion about new legislation that is being passed in the new session that she says will level the playing field for women and people of color. She also spoke about efforts to reduce taxes and to keep businesses and residents from leaving New York State.
New laws to strengthen voting rights, protect women’s reproductive rights and expand access to higher education and daycare are now being passed. It is laws like these, she said, that have allowed her and other women to rise to power within the political structure and to make changes for the future.
“I have 14 women in my conference,’’ said Stewart Cousins. “That’s more than we’ve had in the chamber ever. And with the Republican women. There are 20 women out of 63. It’s an amazing, amazing statistic. You’re going to see a lot of history from us because we’re history makers. This is a historic time and we are a historic group and that’s why I hit the ground running. That’s why elections matter.”
Stewart-Cousins spoke about the obstacles her parents faced because of inequality. Her father, a decorated World War II Veteran, served in a segregated Army and could not take advantage of the GI bill. Nor could the family get a home loan, and they lived in public housing instead. Her mother found upward mobility in a civil service job because even though she “typed 100 words a minute” she could not get work in the corporate world because “they didn’t hire women who looked like her.”
“I grew up in a time where women didn’t have options,’’ she said. “I mean you could be a nurse. You could be a teacher. You could be a secretary. I saw a nobody who was in higher office. Nobody who looked like me.’’
Stewart-Cousins said that she owed her upward mobility to a class action lawsuit.
“It was a class action suit that allowed me to move. It was the phone company back then, the Bell System, and every woman was either an operator or business office person. That’s it. The class action lawsuit allowed me – after rigorous testing and so on and so forth – to be one of two people…who could move into sales and marketing.”
She said that having women leaders and leaders of color will bring a new perspective to government. As an example, she spoke about how when she first entered office she was able to help a disabled women to get a handicapped accessible bathroom in her building.
“Now there had been male elected officials in that building before me but she’d never told them of the personal situation that she was facing because that bathroom was not wheelchair accessible, but she told me. She told me. And we fought for that, and we got it.”
Stewart-Cousins said she also hoped that suburban concerns would be highlighted more now that she is majority leader. She said a lot of attention has been placed on New York City and its concerns and that as a suburban legislator she was more in tune with concerns like controlling taxes, economic development and the success of small businesses.
“Because we understand that the ability to keep people in this great state depends on our building an economy that they can live and work and raise their families and have their families stay here, their children be able to stay here. And yes, even retire here.”
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