Assembly Member Seawright’s Inauguration Speech

February 23, 2015

Thank you the Honorable Justice Jenny Rivera. It is an extraordinary honor to have received the oath of office from you today.

I am deeply grateful to have Sarah Weddington, such a prominent national human rights champion, as my mentor and dear friend. We stand taller because we stand on the shoulders of others who have gone before us.

Thank you to each of you for joining us today for this inauguration which we have dedicated as a celebration of our community and one another!

Please join me in giving Principal William Klann and his wonderful staff a round of applause for hosting us at this fabulous public school. I wanted my inauguration to be here for several reasons. First and foremost, I may be a member of the New York State Assembly but I remain a proud public school Mom and PTA Activist! I know that many who have children in private schools are also public education supporters because we can all agree on the value of a quality education!

I am very honored to have a true champion of public education with us today, our Speaker of the New York State Assembly, the Honorable Carl Heastie. Mr. Speaker, your presence here today, sends an important message of your interest, your friendship and your commitment to our community!

I am honored to have my Assembly and Senate colleagues with us today!

I owe a great deal of gratitude to my family! Beginning with my favorite supporter, my spouse of 22 years, and the strongest feminist I know, the Senior Vice Chancellor and Secretary of the Board of Trustees of CUNY, Jay Hershenson. Recently he was named on the City and State “Power 100” list. And no event involving Jay would be complete without asking, “is CUNY in the house?!”

My inspiration for running for office are my children! I am fortunate to have the support of my kids. My daughter, Haley, is a student and news editor at her fabulous public high school NEST+M. She recently published an article in Education Update on lowering the voting age.

My son, Bradley, is a college sophomore and was recently elected to the SUNY Albany student Senate. It is not easy to get teenagers enthused about campaigning for their Mom on early Saturday mornings at the local green markets, but they did it! Their steadfast support helped carry us over the finish line. Bradley and Haley, please stand.

I would like to thank my dear mother, Connie Seawright and my sister Susan Seawright, please stand.

My mother taught us, among other things, “never smoke cigarettes” and “get your education first. You have your whole life to get married.”

Well, we listened to her. I don’t smoke and my sister is an assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas.

Let me collectively acknowledge the presence of all the elected officials, Labor Leaders, Community Leaders, Community Board 8 Members, Democratic Clubs and the CUNY family. Thank you for your enduring support! So many people here today were with me from the beginning and so many came aboard when asked for their advice, help and support!

Today’s event would not have been possible without the dedicated work of my inaugural chair, Dr. Barbara Rosen and “stage manager,” Helene Goldfarb. Helene shook the hand of Eleanor Roosevelt while working as a stage hand at Hunter College back in the 1940s. Helene extended that same hand to me and touched my heart. President of the Feminist Press and my dear special friend, Helene Goldfarb, come join me from the backstage and take a bow!

I am joined today by dear friends: Joyce Whitby, Linda Kane, Peter Patch, Bertha Lewis, Sandra Wilkin, Elaine Walsh, Jim Clynes, Barbara Chocky, The Dornbaum family, and Evelyn Wilkin who all stood by me without hesitation during all of the “calm, quiet moments” of a fast and furious political campaign. Thank you to Team Rebecca 2014, my fabulous campaign team!

I want to thank each one of the candidates who supported the outcome without hesitation.

David Menegon, Gus Christensen, Ed Hartzog, and David Garland, thank you all for your support! I will need the help of all of you to achieve what we need for our community!

Senator Liz Krueger, thank you for not only moderating today’s program but for your unwavering support of my candidacy AND our community!

Traveling to Albany with Liz is always a wild ride, but then Albany is a wild ride in itself! Liz once said to me, “Rebecca you are the only Assembly Member I know that has a Senator for a driver!” Liz gives new meaning to what it is like to drive to the Capitol in a snowstorm.

On a recent trip, she was involved in a conference call ---hands free of course on rent regulation and affordable housing. The car in front of us spun out of control. I was holding on tight and just knew we were going to end up in a ditch and that the State Troopers would find us in the spring after all the snow had melted! We eventually arrived at our hotel. Around 3 AM, the front desk called my room and the man demanded to speak to Ms. Krueger. I said, “Well we ride together, we don't sleep together!”

I thought working in Albany would be great, you know, getting a job in the town where my son goes to college. We could share an apartment! My son then quickly informed me he was applying for a Residents’ Advisors job that would require him to live on campus. No Moms allowed in his dorm!

Many of you will be home tonight watching the Oscars and guessing the winners, but this afternoon I have a special announcement!

May I have the envelope please? ---Assembly Bill 5264---This is my first bill introduced this session.

The legislation would immediately stop the construction of the Waste Transfer Station at East 91st Street.

This legislation, when passed, requires the immediate suspension of construction until our community’s serious health concerns are addressed. I stand with our local elected officials, Pledge to Protect, Asphalt Green, and our community in fighting the dump!

You see, this is personal to me, as I have stood on the ball fields of Asphalt Green, year after year, as a parent volunteer, where my children had field day each year. I can tell you no transfer station belongs in the middle of a soccer field at Asphalt Green! So as someone recently said, “Stay Tuned"!

My daughter opened a fortune cookie and the fortune said---behind every great man…. is ambition and ambition equals great leadership! She asked, how does the fortune include me?

I told her one of my top priorities is to pass Women's Equality legislation in the spirit of Julia Richman!

You see, she was not only the first Hunter college graduate, but also the first Jewish educator to become a grammar school principal. Julia Richman once said, “Ours is a nation of immigrants. The citizen voter of today was yesterday an immigrant child. Tomorrow, “he” may be a political leader.” When Julia Richman was born 160 years ago like my grandmother, women did not have the right to vote. She accomplished much at a time when the restraints on the aspirations of women were many. Imagine them, smiling today, as I stand before you as the first woman to be elected to the New York State Assembly from the 76th District.

As Barbara Jordan once said, “Life is just too short, to hang out a sign "for men only"!

I have sponsored Assembly Bill 5143 which would require employers to notify employees when their health insurance does not cover contraceptives. This is just the start of what I will push for this session for women's health and women’s equality legislation!

I want to recognize “America's” Congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney for her support! We owe her a great debt of gratitude for passing recent federal legislation establishing a national women’s history museum. As you know, she is a true champion for women’s rights! I have fond memories of traveling with the Congresswoman to Roosevelt Island on numerous occasions. We would be scheduled to be there for about an hour and invariably five hours later, as Rebecca Ocampo knows, we were still on this beautiful Island. We examined water leaks on the F line, ate lunch at the firehouse, toured the exciting new construction of Cornell Technion and stuffed the local Wire newspaper with inserts. I can still hear the Congresswoman saying, “Now Rebecca, listen to Mama Maloney!”

My office is already drafting legislation to address the governance of Roosevelt Island that takes into account the Governor’s veto of past legislation while maintaining the principle of increased community representation. Is Roosevelt Island in the house?

My committee assignments include the Corporations and Authorities Committee. These days everyone is a corporation and everyone in Albany is an authority. But I am particularly pleased with this assignment, which has oversight of the MTA Second Ave subway construction and Roosevelt Island. My first committee vote was to support the Port Authority Reform bill, so we don’t have to learn through the Daily News that a call girl ring was being run out of the Port Authority.

We need many reforms in Albany including campaign finance, ethics and more transparency, and disclosure.

Our community needs to know that public service does matter and that reform of the system is possible! Are we ready?

Our community needs to know that we have to be at the table, not just near the table, when decisions are made! Are we ready?

Our community needs to know that with crisis comes opportunity; with charges of corruption comes a climate for reform; with the system shaken comes time for a change. Are we ready now?

We will continue to fight:

for Affordable Housing, and Senior Citizen Services,

for more open space and green space,

for safer bike lanes,

for the Dream Act,

for increased minimum wage and

for a better quality of life!

At our community office we have four women in a room, literally: Cali, Rebecca Graham, Courtney and Flor.

We would like to invite you to our community office at 1365 First Avenue, for an open house and a Women's History Month celebration on Friday March 20th.

Meanwhile, my son attended one of my speeches and afterwards he said, “Mom, you missed several really good chances to sit down.”

So I want to wrap up today with a quote from 1922. Susan B. Anthony once said, “There will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and become lawmakers.” Thank you for your support!