Candidate: Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Incumbent, State Senator District 35, State Senate Democratic Conference Leader
Resume: Andrea Stewart-Cousins was born and raised in New York. She was elected to serve as Leader of the Senate Democratic Conference in December 2012, becoming the first female leader of a legislative conference in New York State history. She was first elected to the State Senate in 2006. Andrea Stewart-Cousins also served for a decade as a Westchester County Legislator. During her tenure (from 1996-2006), she was elected Majority Whip and Vice-Chair. In 1992, Andrea Stewart-Cousins became the first African American to serve as Director of Community Affairs for the City of Yonkers. Senator Stewart-Cousins earned her Bachelor of Science Degree from Pace University and her teaching credentials in Business Education from Lehman College while raising her children as an adult. In 2008, she earned her Masters of Public Administration from Pace University, and is a member of Pi Alpha Alpha – a Public Administration Honor Society. Prior to entering public service, she spent 20 years in the private sector, working in sales and marketing for New York Telephone/AT&T for 13 years and also worked as a reporter and teacher.
Senator Stewart-Cousins resides in Yonkers, was married to the late Thomas Cousins and has three children and three grandchildren.
WPE – White Plains Examiner: What policy issues now before the NYS Legislature do you consider to be the most important and why?
Stewart Cousins: Taxes are always top of mind for my constituents, and I have been fighting in Albany to decrease their burden. I have cut middle class income taxes to the lowest levels in 60 years and passed legislation to protect New Yorkers from the terrible Trump Tax bill’s limits on state and local tax deductions.
Making sure that our economy grows in a sustainable and equitable way and creating jobs with livable wages are also top priorities.
I also know that education is the great equalizer, and that we must support our public schools to ensure every child receives a quality education, regardless of zip code. That’s why I fight for increases in state education funding year in and year out. Just this year, I fought for and voted on an almost $1 billion increase in state education funding.
WPE: What issues not before the legislature do you feel need to be addressed by the NY State government? What do you feel you need to fight the hardest for?
Stewart-Cousins: As the Leader of the Senate Democrats, I have fought hard alongside my colleagues to push for policies that would help all New Yorkers. We are at a crossroads in our state and national histories. With Donald Trump threatening our protections, its more critical than ever to have progressive leaders with the experience and willingness to stand up and defend our values. That’s why I have been fighting to protect women’s rights, ensure protections for our environment and strengthen our guns laws. These issues are significant and must be addressed at the state level, especially now.
WPE: In your service as a NYS senator, what has been your biggest success/accomplishment?
Stewart-Cousins: I’m proud to say that I sponsored and passed Jimmy Nolan’s Law. This law extended the time by which 9/11 responders could file compensation claims for injuries sustained from the World Trade Center rescue, recovery or cleanup operations. This was the precursor to the Zadroga Act on the federal level.
I’ve helped pass legislation to increase the minimum wage, create the most comprehensive paid family leave law in the country, enact marriage equality, decrease middle-class income taxes to the lowest levels in 60 years, pass the toughest gun laws in the nation with the New York SAFE Act and expand the senior drug prescription program, EPIC. I am also proud of my record fighting for increased education funding. This year alone we brought an additional almost $1 billion into our public schools.
WPE: What has been your biggest disappointment and what are you doing/want to do about it?
Stewart-Cousins: I am disappointed that my Republican colleagues in the Senate have obstructed a number of common-sense bills for which my Democratic colleagues and I have been pushing. For instance, the Senate Republicans refuse to pass the Child Victims Act, which would make it easier for victims of child molestation to bring charges or sue their abusers. The Senate Republicans also deny the existence of climate change and have refused to take meaningful action to cut carbon emissions. Perhaps most egregiously, they refused to protect New Yorkers from the Trump Tax bill, which was directly targeted at New York taxpayers. I believe that changing control of the Senate over to the Democratic Party is the best way to move the State forward on these and so many other issues. That’s why I am working hard in this political season to achieve a strong Democratic majority.
WPE: What issues are you fighting for now that you want to stay present to fight for or that you want to add on to?
Stewart-Cousins: My conference and I have proposed several comprehensive legislative packages. One of which would improve our State’s voting laws. New York is one of only 13 states that does not allow early voting, so I am pushing for a bill to change that. I also sponsor a bill that would make voter suppression a crime and another that would consolidate federal and state primaries to reduce confusion about election dates and save taxpayer money.
My conference and I also put forth a common-sense gun reform package. Among other things the package would extend the waiting period for background checks from 3 days to 10 and create extreme risk protection orders which would take guns out of the hands of people deemed potentially violent by a judge.
We have also put forth a criminal justice reform package. This included proposals to ensure defendants are not incarcerated for extended periods of time simply because they cannot afford bail, require criminal cases to go to trial in a timely manner, and require comprehensive and automatic discovery.
Finally, my conference and I have been fighting to protect women’s reproductive choices. This is a pivotal moment for women in this country with President Trump and the US Supreme Court threatening our protections but the New York State Senate Republicans refusing to stand up for women. When New York created its abortion laws in 1970, 12 Republican State Senators voted in favor of women’s choice. But today, in 2018, not a single Republican Senator will cast a vote for the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify the protections guaranteed in the Roe vs. Wade decision into New York State’s health code.
All of the proposals mentioned above are among the many reasons why it is so crucial that we elect a Democratic State Senate in November.
WPE: Why should your constituency vote for you in the primary – what makes you the best candidate – today – for your district?
Stewart-Cousins: I have a strong record of public service in Westchester County dating back to my tenure working as Director of Community Affairs in the City of Yonkers following the desegregation case. I was then elected to the Westchester County Board of Legislators where I passed prevailing wage laws and created policies to stop racial profiling. I also created the County Human Rights Commission and helped pass safe storage requirements for guns. As State Senator, I have worked tirelessly to invest in our public schools, advance sensible gun laws, stand up for women’s rights and health care, and ensure our vulnerable communities are protected. My office continues to deliver the best possible constituent services and help the people in our communities prosper and thrive.
I also have the distinct honor of serving as the Democratic Leader of the New York State Senate and I am the first woman in New York history to hold a leadership position in our legislature. If Democrats win a majority in the November elections, I will be the first female Majority Leader in New York history, which would give Westchester County a front seat at the decision-making table of our State.
WPE: How important are policy decisions made now at the State level in relation to policy decisions being made at the national level?
Stewart-Cousins: State policies have always been important – but now more than ever, we need our state to act as a progressive bulwark against disastrous policies at the national level. As the Democratic Leader of the New York State Senate, I have stood up to the Trump administration’s disastrous proposals.
For instance, the Trump tax plan placed a severe cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions. This directly harms areas like Westchester, so I have stood up to fight for local taxpayers and passed measures that would protect hardworking New Yorkers from the consequences of this plan.
Roe v. Wade is under serious threat. That’s why I have been one of the state’s leading advocates for the passage of the Reproductive Health Act. This law would update New York’s abortion laws by codifying the protections guaranteed in the Roe vs. Wade decision into our State’s health code. When New York created its abortion laws in 1970, 12 Republican State Senators voted in favor of women’s choice. But today, in 2018, not a single Republican Senator will cast a vote for the Reproductive Health Act.
WPE: Add your own comments … let the voters know who you are and why you are important to them.
Stewart-Cousins: I am proud of my record of public service. I am an experienced leader who has the ability and willingness to stand up for progressive values in the face of the Trump administration. I have an opportunity to make history next year as the first woman majority leader in New York history. Here in Westchester, I have been endorsed by every Democratic local elected official in my district because they know that I am an effective advocate for the communities I represent in Albany. I have passed bills that have improved the lives of people in Westchester and throughout New York State, and I have secured much-needed funding and resources for the 35th Senate District. As Leader of the Senate Democrats, I am in a position of influence, which I use to fight on behalf of my constituents, and my office has delivered excellent constituent service for years. I am proud to represent Westchester County in Albany, and I will continue working hard to make the Empire State the best place to live, work, and raise a family.