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New York state Assemblywoman Didi Barrett facing early Democratic primary challenge from Claire Cousin

 New York state Assemblywoman Didi Barrett is facing early Democratic primary challenge from Claire Cousin.
Composite Image by Dave Lucas / WAMC
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New York state Assemblywoman Didi Barrett is facing early Democratic primary challenge from Claire Cousin.

A longtime Hudson Valley state Assemblymember is facing an early Democratic primary challenge.

The 2024 Democratic primary may seem a long way off, but Hudson-based community leader Claire Cousin is getting her campaign organized now.

"I am a lifelong advocate and activist," Cousin said. "I started my activism around youth justice. My first experience, speaking out in support of youth, was around the city cutting the hours of the youth department for teens to be able to play basketball at night. And that led me to do some work with a local social justice group called SBK Social Justice Center, where I was asked to become their youth and young adult chair, I was about 20 years old. And I was already a mom."

Cousin went on to help create systems and alternatives to youth incarceration. She eventually became Executive Director of the Hudson-Catskill Housing Coalition, which she says helped land her in the political arena. Cousin was elected to the Columbia County Board of Supervisors in January 2022. Now, the 30-year-old activist is mounting a challenge against Barrett.

"So I was asked by the Working Families Party in ’22, if I would consider running, and we started talking about it," said Cousin. "And I was thinking, if it was realistic for me at the time, and it just ended up not being realistic. But it put the thought in my mind, just around the fact that I had been doing housing work, and we do criminal justice reform work. And those are some issues that I've interacted with Didi around while we're trying to advocate for, you know, some of the bills that we're passionate about, such as 'clean slate or 'good cause’ on the housing side, and there were things that were really difficult to get her engaged in the conversations.”

Cousin says she became more and more interested in the 106th district seat.

The 72-year-old Barrett was elected to the Assembly in March 2012, winning a special election to succeed Marc Molinaro, who had been elected Dutchess County Executive. She went on to win the November election for the new 106th district, which includes parts of Dutchess and most of Columbia Counties and remains unchanged after the latest round of redistricting. In recent times protests were staged oustide of Barrett's Albany and Hudson offices critical of her stance on methane emissions and her 2021 vote against continuing the pandemic-rooted statwide eviction moratorium. As for Cousin, Barrett says she's "always up to a challenge."

"This is a free country, people can run for office whenever they want," said Barrett. "And I was elected in 2012 because I stepped up and ran. And I feel like it's been just an amazing experience and look forward to continuing it. I have a beautiful district, there's a lot very diverse, it's very large."

Barrett brushed off insinuations she's out of touch and that her brand of lawmaking isn't progressive enough, noting that she's "out and about" meeting constituents very day.

"I think I am in touch with the values of the people of my district," Barrett said. "It's a very rural district. And, you know, there's a lot of different points of view, it's a very purple district, always been a very purple district. And I, you know, I think the last election in November shows that, that I am in touch with them. So I'm not sure exactly what, you know, what that means. But there's a lot of misinformation out there."

Barrett says her accomplishments speak for her legislative skills.

"We've really been able to deliver a lot for the people of the district, diner stops that we do throughout the district. You know, we've got two community colleges just recently got funding for Columbia-Greene, for a million dollars for their construction trades. And then just in this last budget for food and housing insecure students at Dutchess Community College, the second year in a row, $150,000 grant for them. And so, you know, I feel like there's lots more work to do, and I look forward to continuing to do it," Barrett said.

Meanwhile Cousin's plans include lots of “meet and greet” face-to-face conversations

"What's on the forefront of my mind with announcing early is that people just need to know that somebody is out there that wants to hear their concerns. And that, you know, I want to take the time to get to know more of the area than I already am familiar with. I want to give people that opportunity,” said Cousin.

The primary is in June 2024.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.