Vanessa Agudelo made history in 2017, at the age of 25, as the youngest person ever to be elected to the Peekskill Common Council and she made her presence felt by sometimes clashing with her Democratic colleagues on local, regional and global policy issues.
Her independent stances resulted in her being snubbed by Peekskill district leaders last year, forcing her to run for reelection on a Progress 4 Peekskill ticket where she was the only active candidate standing following a Democratic primary defeat. Her reelection bid fell short, but now Agudelo is setting her sights on making a difference statewide.
In an exclusive interview Monday with Examiner Media, Agudelo revealed she was launching a campaign for the 95th Assembly District seat being vacated after 30 years by the retiring Sandy Galef.
A first-generation Colombian-American, Agudelo, 29, is the New York Immigration Coalition’s Hudson Valley Member Engagement Manager. She said she has her hands on the pulse of issues affecting residents in the district, which includes Peekskill, Cortlandt, Ossining, Philipstown and Kent.
“I think what sets me apart are my years of commitment and advocacy and work in the community,” Agudelo said. “I’ve lived and am living many of the struggles that so many families in the district are facing. I’m really excited about the opportunity and potential for transformative change that we can be part of. We need an advocate who is not going to stay silent and demand that real action be taken.”
Agudelo, who has drawn comparisons to U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is the fourth Democrat this month to announce their intentions to succeed Galef.
Former Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey, who led the Council during Agudelo’s term and was her running mate in 2017, was the first out of the gate, followed by Ossining Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg, who served as Galef’s Communications Director and then Chief of Staff prior to being elected town supervisor in 2015.
Westchester County Legislator Colin Smith, who was reelected to a second term last year, later join the fray.
“I think it’s really interesting that everyone who is running is an elected official or formerly was an elected official,” Agudelo remarked. “I know what it takes to run for office. I know the sacrifices that are made when one is a public official. 29 years is a long time. I think she (Galef) realizes where at a moment where we need real change in our district. There is a yearning in our community and our district for change and there is a lack of understanding how to get there.”
With the New York Immigration Coalition, Agudelo said she worked alongside coalition partners to pass the “Greenlight” bill in 2019, giving all residents in New York State access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. She also led the organization’s campaign to pass the Excluded Worker Fund, a $2.1 billion investment to provide pandemic relief for those unable to collect unemployment.
She said those and other efforts in her role has made her familiar with some of the pressing issues facing residents throughout the state.
Agudelo emphasized her top priority would be tackling the housing crisis. For example, in Peekskill she has insisted the city is facing a housing affordability crisis that is creating financial hardships for residents and pricing out many others. She has maintained six out of 10 residents in Peekskill are living in housing they can’t afford and 40% are paying 50% of their income on housing costs. She also noted Peekskill has the highest rate of foreclosures in Westchester since 2018.
“We have to act urgently, and we have to act now,” stressed Agudelo, who noted she was only recently able to afford to move out of her parent’s home. “We have to guarantee housing as of right. I know the horror it’s causing for some of my family and friends.”
Former Village Trustee Omar Herrera expressed his excitement for Agudelo’s candidacy, mentioning her support a few years ago of Ossining’s fight to pass the Emergency Tenant Protection Act.
“She has been a voice for many marginalized people and also for the community as a whole,” Herrera stated. “The 95th Assembly District does not need another institutionalized person from the party establishment, but one who is an independent thinker and unapologetic when fighting towards true equity and basic human rights like housing, water, education and healthcare.”
Agudelo said she has already secured about $25,000 in financial commitments from supporters as she focuses on winning the June 28 Democratic primary, which likely will decide who will win the two-year term seat.
“This is absolutely a people-powered campaign,” Agudelo said. “What I’m trying to build on is nothing new. The power lies within the people.”
Rick has more than 40 years’ experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, running the gamut from politics and crime to sports and human interest. He has been an editor at Examiner Media since 2012. Read more from Rick’s editor-author bio here. Read Rick’s work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/pezzullo_rick-writer/