History was made at the New York State Capitol Monday as the Senate elected its first woman, and African American woman, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, as its leader to head the chamber in January.
Senator Stewart-Cousins, who has led the Democrats in the Senate since 2012, is poised to become the Senate’s next majority party leader, after Democrats won 40 seats in November’s elections. Stewart- Cousins was a teacher and a journalist before being elected to represent Yonkers in the Westchester County Legislature. She won her Senate seat over a decade ago. She took a moment to reflect on the big changes her selection represents.
“This is an incredibly proud moment for me,” Stewart-Cousins said. “It is a moment that I don’t believe, certainly when I came here, I would have ever dreamt of.”
Stewart-Cousins says among the top priorities for the Senate Democrats will be enacting the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify the abortion rights in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade into New York law, and strengthening gun control laws, as well as instituting early voting in New York.
She will preside over a diverse conference. Some are insurgent Democrats who beat six of eight former breakaway Democrats in the Democratic primary in September, and seek single payer health care for New York and significantly more spending on public schools.
Other new senators, elected in November, represent Long Island and the Hudson Valley, where property taxes are a concern, and who may want to hold the line on any new major spending programs. But Senator Stewart-Cousins says she expects consensus will come.
“I don’t think it’s a collision,” Stewart-Cousins said. "The things that we're going to be addressing obviously are things that are very, very important to New Yorkers – health care, quality education – all these things are why we're here."
She says she wants first to sit down and talk about all of the issues with her 15 new members.
Senator Brad Hoylman, who was elected to the Senate in 2012, is now one of the more senior senators in the Democratic conference. He says he thinks the Democrats can come up with a plan that includes funding for schools and health care without greatly increasing taxes.
“I hope what we see in a newly led conference is a much more deliberative body,” said Hoylman.
Republicans meanwhile are down to just 23 members and will have far less power than they had when they controlled the chamber.
Senate Minority Leader-elect John Flanagan says he and the other Republicans will do their best to draw attention to issues and legislation that they disagree with.
“I’m scared to death about what’s coming,” said Flanagan.
Flanagan, speaking on November 16 after he was reelected as GOP leader, predicted that a bill to enact single payer health care in New York would “bankrupt the state”, and he says raising taxes on the wealthy will cause more people to leave New York.
In a statement after Stewart-Cousins' election, Flanagan called the Democratic leader a “class act and a “truly extraordinary person," and says he hopes they can work together.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who helped in 2018 to get more fellow Democrats elected to the Senate, says he wants to work with her and the Senate Democrats to “stand up to the extreme conservative agenda” in Washington.