The public had a chance today to honor two Hudson Valley lawmakers who died on Sunday. There was a service for Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy, who died at age 73 from ovarian cancer. And there were visitation hours for her fellow Democrat, New York state Assemblyman Frank Skartados, who died at 62 from pancreatic cancer.
The transition service for Kennedy was one she had planned. There were instructions ranging from where to donate money —all Newburgh causes, of course — to what to bring to the service. She requested that, instead of cut flowers, people bring live plants that could be replanted to beautify the city. Newburgh community activist Omari Shakur says that though they did not see eye to eye at first, they did have a meeting of the minds.
“She didn’t pull no punches. She told you how it was and what she was there for. Like I said, we never had a plan, but we had a vision. And she stayed true to that vision to the very end, she stayed true to it,” Shakur says. “And that’s why I commend her because she has shown us what leadership is about. Leadership is about staying committed to the end dedication.”
That vision, he says, is a better and brighter Newburgh. Shakur read one of his poems during the service at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center.
“You just listen to the words — just one day without Judy. Look at, just one day, it’s just one day,” says Shakur. “If you just look at your life and look, just one day can make a difference, just one day, just one.”
Under Kennedy’s leadership, there was a reduction in crime, the return of vacant buildings to the tax rolls and more businesses opening their doors or looking to do so. Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney opened his district doors in Newburgh and spoke at Kennedy’s service.
“She poured her heart and soul into that city and she woke up every day thinking about how to make it better. And her final statement was a demand that we work together and that we find a way to ‘rise together,’ as she said,” Maloney says. “And, if you went to her service, you saw people and representatives from every corner of that city, from every faith and race and religion and sexuality, and everything else, and across all our lines of difference. She planned it that way. She planned her own service because she wanted to get the message through one more time that we have to do this together. And I think that’s her legacy is that she reminds us that we have to work together.”
Kennedy was serving her second term, which she had won in 2015 as a write-in candidate after having lost the primary. She wanted everyone to come to the table, in the name of unity, to better the city. City council members say she left them a to-do list.
Many mourners including Congressman Maloney then made a 20-minute drive into Ulster County to the DiDonato Funeral Home in Marlboro, to pay respects to Skartados.
“He was a bulldog for what he thought was right. And he was always sticking up for people who were shut out and who didn’t have everything lined up for them in this world, “And I loved working with him. And we’re going to miss him a lot. He was a great, decent, passionate, honest public servant. And to lost Frank and Judy in the same weekend is a real loss.”
Officials recalled Skartados’ work on education and the environment. His 104th District straddles both sides of the Hudson River, and includes the cities of Beacon, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie. Visitation hours continue Friday afternoon and evening. New York Lieutenant Kathy Hochul along with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and several assemblymembers are expected to attend.