Hundreds of people attended a transition service Thursday for Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy. She died Sunday at age 73 after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. It was a service the mayor herself planned, and there were speeches, songs and poems.
Newburgh resident Golam Mawla:
“She was a wonderful lady,” Golam says. “She was a big fighter for everything, for the city, for life.”
Omari Shakur read one of his poems during the service at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center. He’s a Newburgh community activist who once ran for mayor. Shakur says it’s time to stop fighting against one another and instead fight for the city, a mantra he and Kennedy shared.
“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.”
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 adopted Newburgh. Born in Idaho, then living in Oregon, she purchased a house in Newburgh from one of her sons in 2007, and ran for mayor in 2011. The Democrat won a second term in 2015, despite having lost the primary. Jonathan Jacobson, now serving on the city council, was her primary opponent. They had their differences.
“Well, there’s no one that ever doubted her sincerity and dedication to making the City of Newburgh better,” says Jacobson. “And it was so sad how she had to suffer through her illness.”
The city council may choose to elect an interim mayor until a special election in November, but nothing has been decided. Kennedy left a message for the city as well as for individual city council members, including Councilman Torrance Harvey. He says Kennedy summoned him to her bedside and gave him a to-do list.
“The list was very poignant and very well-articulated, just like meticulous as Judy always has been with her notes and her thoughts and her ideals and her outlook. So I was like, wow,” Harvey says. “And I took it and studied it and will do my very best to fulfill all of her wishes on that list.”
“Can you share anything on that list, or would you?” asks Dunne.
“Well, the one thing I will say without giving out too much is she wants the vacancies filled on the council. She also wants the roads repaved. She wants ratables for the city, in terms of development," says Harvey. She also wants us to have better communication with other elected officials at the state and federal levels as well. She had some things that she wanted me to share with our city manager, for him to do.”
Republican New York state Senator Bill Larkin, whose district includes Newburgh, says Kennedy had respect for everybody.
“She put herself last. She put the city first,” Larkin says. “She put the people first.”
“I think we lost a great human being from the City of Newburgh,” Mawla says. “I don’t know when we are going to get one like a Judy Kennedy.”
“A real leader uses every issue, no matter how serious and sensitive, to ensure at the end of the debate, we should emerge stronger and more united than ever before.” It’s a quote from Nelson Mandela, and was written on both the program for Kennedy’s service and her memorial card. Kennedy is survived by her mother, brothers and her four sons and their families.