PoliticsThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Galef Looks Back on a Full Life of Public Service

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Longtime Assemblywoman Sandy Galef saw her 30-year Assembly run end last weekend after deciding against running in 2022. Including county government, she spent more than four decades serving constituents in her home community of Ossining and neighboring towns.

Years ago, it hadn’t been in Sandy Galef’s long-term plans to serve in elected office. While raising a family, she had been content to help the community in a variety of volunteer capacities, from working with the League of Women Voters to serving on the library board in Ossining where she and her late husband, Steven Galef, had settled.

But when her husband, an attorney who had spent four years on the Westchester County Board of Legislators, decided to bow out rather than seek a third term, local Westchester political leaders reached out to Galef to see if she would consider running for the seat in 1979.

Galef recalled numerous people calling, flattering her that she would do a great job as a legislator.

“I wasn’t going to do this, and then people came to me and said you really should,” Galef recalled. “So I thought about the organizations that I was working with and they were always going to the county to talk about budget issues, and I said if I’m there I can have a vote to do this, not just talk about it. I’d be able to try and convince voters to do the same thing.”

With Galef’s decision to enter that ultimately successful initial campaign for the Board of Legislators, she would become a fixture in the area’s political scene for the next 43 years, first on the county board, followed by the last 30 years in the state Assembly, representing her home community and typically Cortlandt, Peekskill, all or parts of Yorktown, and in later years as a result of redistricting, towns such as Kent and Philipstown in Putnam County.

On Sunday, for the first time since the end of the 1970s, Galef, 82, had no more events to attend, legislation to mull over or constituents to serve. She had decided last January that 2022 would be her last year in office.

Along the way, Galef, a Democrat, managed to carve out a highly respected record as a legislator with her work ethic and paucity of drama even in the sometimes cut-throat world of politics. She also cut her teeth in the political world at a time when women legislators were often looked upon as novelties and demeaned by some of their male colleagues in a not-so-subtle way.

“I remember being at (county) budget meetings and legislative meetings,” recalled Galef, who was born in La Crosse, Wis. before her parents moved to Mamaroneck when she was four years old. “They’d say ‘You better go home and cook dinner for your husband.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, I think I’ll stay at this meeting and stop by McDonald’s on the way home.’ You had to get around it. It was very sexist.”

Her foray into state government came about after George Pataki decided to make the leap from the Assembly and run for state Senate in 1992. In a newly-drawn district, there was an opportunity to make an impact for more people on a larger stage. Plus, by that time her son and daughter had entered college, which would make the trips to Albany more feasible as opposed to when they were younger, she said.

In November 1992, dubbed locally as the Year of the Woman, Galef was one of four women to represent Westchester in the Assembly out of the seven seats in the county, joining Naomi Matusow, Audrey Hochberg, and Cecile Singer in Albany. Galef’s time on the Board of Legislators prepared her well for the new challenge at the time.

“It was really a similar kind of thing in government, but the only problem was it’s a bigger district, more people and the campaign is that much harder and you have to raise more money,” she said.

It would be the first of 15 consecutive victories in the Assembly for Galef, a former elementary school teacher after graduating Purdue University and earning her master’s degree at the University of Virginia.

In her time in the Assembly, two of her proposals turned into the approval of two constitutional amendments. The first, early in her Assembly tenure, made the state constitution gender-neutral; the second ended the mandatory practice of having all bills printed on paper, which she viewed as an unnecessary step with technology.

There were those who dismissed the first amendment as needless. Not only was she congratulated by the state’s chief judge at the time, Judith Kaye, but it proved to be ahead of its time.

“Some people said that isn’t important, but sometimes terminology is really important,” Galef said.

No issue came close to being as all-consuming as Indian Point throughout her three decades in the Assembly. With the nuclear plants in the heart of her district, the contentious debates often pitted the people who worked at the facilities against those who fought for their closure. It’s been 20 months since its closure, and with the decommissioning process underway, Indian Point will remain a crucial issue in the district and the state, she said.

As a longtime chair of the Real Property Tax Committee, Galef also fought for years to get legislation that would trigger so-called property tax circuit-breakers. It provides relief to those households that make less than $250,000 and pay more than 6 percent of their income in property taxes. They now receive a credit on their income tax bill. It only took about 17 years to get there.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done in the area of taxation,” Galef said. “People really feel that.”

Her last piece of legislation, the One-Day Marriage Officiant Bill, was signed last Thursday by Gov. Kathy Hochul. The new law allows town and city clerks to issue licenses for individuals to become perform a one-time marriage. The assemblywoman had carried the legislation for 16 years prior to its signing.

Galef said she will have no problems keeping busy, although she isn’t certain about everything she’ll do. She vowed, however, to stay busy.

For now, she will take a couple of trips in the coming months with Road Scholar, a nonprofit that plans educational trips mainly for older adults. She’ll be heading to Palm Springs, Calif. later this winter for a film festival and in the spring to Washington for a course on foreign policy.

She’ll also visit her three grandchildren, two of whom are now in college, and volunteer for the Sing Sing Historic Museum.

After so many years of being available for constituents, Galef wants to find the time to these and any other activities that may interest her.

“People don’t realize that in public life, you have so many events and there are so many places, and you want to be at those places, too,” Galef said. “It’s just a part of your job and you just pull back on some of the things that you’d like to do, so now I won’t have to do that.”

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