Indy Talks, the Hudson Independent’s monthly cable TV interview show this month features Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the new majority leader of the New York State Senate and arguably one of the three most powerful politicians in the state. She also represents our own 35thDistrict. The show airs on Cablevision channel 75 and Fios channel 34 within the Town of Greenburgh each Friday of the month at 9:30am, 3:30pm and 8:30pm.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins interviewed by Barrett Seaman on December 28, 2018.
Q&A: State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Excerpts from an interview with newly-elected New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, conducted by Barrett Seaman just before New Year’s on Indy Talks, the Hudson Independent’s monthly cable TV show, which airs on Optimum channel 75 and Fios channel 34 each Friday at 9:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 8:30 pm. Watch the full interview above.
Q: What does it mean to be the first African-American women to become one of the three most powerful people in the state—the one who broke the mold of the “three men in a room” method of governing the state?
A: It’s certainly exciting. It’s extremely humbling. When I think of my story, the amazing things that have happened to me on this journey, I am grateful, and I am surprised. I never really expected to have a career in politics….But I am cognizant of what I have to do to make sure that opportunity persists and that we are not only creating the first but that we do the kind of job that makes sure we are not the last; that people will continue to elect women and that we continue to break the barriers.
Q: Women were big winners in the last election—particularly here in New York, and particularly progressive women. There is an assumption that their priorities are going to come to the fore—issues like education, gun laws, immigration, reproductive rights. So, let’s pretend we’re trapped in an elevator for two minutes and I ask you to spell out your priorities as you go into the legislative session.
A: All of those things that you mentioned have been priorities of my conference. I have led the Democratic caucus for the past six years, and we have been very clear about our advocacy on behalf of education funding and not having your educational opportunities depend on your zip code. We certainly have been on the forefront of fighting for women’s rights, criminal justice reform, the environment, voting access—trying to get New York out of having just Tuesday [to vote]. Certainly fighting for immigrants, knowing that New York has a proud tradition of being that place where people are welcome. New York is an incredibly strong example of what diversity means and what it can do, whether it’s women’s suffrage or labor rights, New York has a great progressive history….If I were stuck in an elevator, I’ve been around long enough that I’m not going to say that this, this or that is going to be first or second [action item]. But I can tell you that I am certainly going to move the things we consider to be easy, that we’ve been fighting for, like the Child Victims Act, that have been blocked for years and years because of my colleagues across the aisle. And I always say that we are fiscally responsible—I mean I represent Westchester—that we recognize that the quality of life is important but also the affordability…. I want it to be a place that my kids and their kids and their kids can afford.
Q: One of the things that got you to this position was the breakup of the Independent Democratic Caucus through the election. That was a big deal, it seems to me, but some of those people are still there, including Mr. [Simcha] Felder (D, 17th District). What does it mean to have that caucus break up?
A: There was that Independent Democratic Caucus. There were eight people in that conference, and those people…were affiliating principally with the Republicans. No matter how many people came into the Democratic conference, because of their alliance with the Republicans…we as Democrats were never able to attain a majority. In April, the governor brokered a deal, and they came back [into the conference] and we were all together. But we still didn’t have enough; we were 31. Simcha Felder had never been part of the Independent Democrats. He had always gone directly with the Republicans. He was an entity unto himself. Simcha Felder, even after April, continued to vote with the Republicans. So we are a 39-member conference.
Q: There may be an assumption among many in the state that because the Democrats now control all three branches of state government it’s going to be cake walk to get these issues through. What do you see as the toughest to get through?
A: There are some issues that are a little bit new to a conversation in my conference. For example, there is concern –a real concern—about health care and health care access. I mean there are people who go bankrupt in America because of health care [costs). In New York, not only did I not get one Republican to codify Roe v. Wade, even as we speak, the same Republican majority would not enact the law that would allow for the setup of the exchanges for the Affordable Care Act. So, the governor actually did that by executive order. Then the broader question about whether it’s single payer or not has never been a conversation in the Republican Senate. The concerns around it, which are certainly valid because of the antagonism, apparently, against any sort of affordable health care access is going to be something that will require a great deal of attention. Of course, we’re also concerned about the tax situation. Trying to find a way to protect the taxpayers in the state. That is an issue that we’re going to have to continue to undertake. I don’t have a magic answer for something that is this targeted. Along with the governor and my colleague in the assembly, Mr. [Speaker of the Senate, Carl] Heastie, and our taxation and finance experts, we’re trying to figure out what we can do. It’s an issue and one that unfortunately is mostly ours and in other states like ours that voted another way.
Q: Your scarves have become something of a branding thing for Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Do you have a particular style of scarf?
A: It goes back to my friend whom I helped. She did become the first African-American woman elected to the Yonkers City Council, and I became the second African-American woman elected in Yonkers, and because people sometimes confused the two of us, I decided to wear a scarf in order to make me easier to identify. And it stuck—happily.