Job Training Initiative to Preserve Historic Treasures

Along with stunning natural resources, the Hudson Valley has a rich cultural heritage. Our wealth of local, state and national historic sites contributes to the region’s growing status as a top tourist destination, while at the same time making it – as we all well know – a very special place to live and work.

Since these historic treasures are so ingrained in the fabric of the Hudson Valley, it is vital we do all we can to preserve them. With this in mind, my office has been developing a historic preservation training and apprenticeship initiative called Our Heritage/Our Future to help prepare the next generation of tradespeople and skilled artisans to restore and preserve state historic properties, as well as to work on the many other historic homes and structures that dot the region.

Our Heritage/Our Future began in our office after numerous meetings with local historic sites that revealed the need for skilled workers to repair and upkeep these sites. We discovered that even the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has difficulty finding qualified workers to repair their properties. SHPO shared that they regularly get calls from private property owners looking for recommendations for contractors who know about wooden windows, slate roofs, decorative plaster or other features found in older houses – and they rarely have names to suggest.

We began to reach out to local schools, contractors, carpenters and other stakeholders to start the conversation: How do we find, teach and train the next generation of skilled tradespeople to work on these historic properties? How do we also help them develop business skills so they can stay and raise their families here in our region, where it’s been difficult to retain young people.

There has been widespread and overwhelming support for this idea, especially among industry professionals. Old structures need constant repair and upkeep and both contractors and those who care for state historic sites would love to see more skilled workers trained to handle this work. Both have offered the opportunity for hands-on apprenticeships as part of the training.

To make this initiative a reality, our office has partnered with Dutchess BOCES and Dutchess Community College to develop a local program that could be expanded to other counties. This program would give students hands-on training in carpentry, masonry and woodworking at BOCES, while offering courses at DCC in regional history and cultural studies as well as business skills to help turn this know-how into a viable career.

As chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Regional Tourism Development, I am committed to ensuring that our cultural and historic treasures are also key economic drivers for our region. In the past, learning a trade was a path to a good-paying job, a solidly middle-class lifestyle and the ability to grow a family and buy a home. Somewhere along the road we lost sight of the important role the trades play in our economy. Through this initiative we can re-energize these trades and attract a new generation to put down roots in the Hudson Valley – at the same time preserving these treasures of history for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

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Fighting for Health & Mental Health

As a mother, the health and well-being of my family is always a major concern. So, as the 2016 Legislative Session came to a close last week, I was especially gratified to shepherd, support and pass several initiatives that will work to improve health and mental health outcomes for the people of my Assembly District. mental-health

Whether it is a mother, sister, daughter, friend, or yourself, too many of us know someone who has been affected by breast cancer. Early detection is key to fighting this disease and we sponsored and passed legislation that would remove the obstacles of cost and inconvenient hours that keep too many women from getting mammograms. By expanding hours at hospitals and clinics and removing co-pays, women will have better access to potentially lifesaving services that detect breast cancer at an early stage when treatment is most effective.

This session we continued our battle against Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses, an epidemic that has disproportionately impacted our beautiful Hudson Valley region. Legislation we authored and passed increases awareness and focuses on efforts to curb the spread of Lyme disease. Specifically, these bills provide students and teachers with age-appropriate instructional materials, educate the public about simple prevention methods and create guidelines to help residents keep ticks away from their home and property.

The Legislature and governor agreed last week on a package of bills that address the devastating heroin and opioid epidemic that has reached crisis levels in the Hudson Valley and the state. The package includes limiting opioid prescriptions, increasing access to treatment and supporting recovery services. While these are all positive steps in this daunting fight to save lives and curb addiction, much more needs to be done and significantly more resources allocated, especially to support long-term recovery programs and treatment services. I will continue to fight for those resources.

I have long believed that significantly more attention and resources must be focused on mental and behavioral health. I was pleased to provide Dutchess County with $1.5 million in the state budget to support reforms to the criminal justice system that focus more on mental health, drug addiction and special populations. This funding will not only help better serve a vulnerable population, but I have assurances from County Executive Molinaro that these funds will enable the county to reshape mental health services as a model for counties across the nation, while also providing needed tax relief.

While we were able to deliver important funding and legislation that impact the health and well-being of our communities, there is clearly more to be done at the local, state and federal levels.  For one, mental and behavioral health must be treated with the parity it deserves in policy, training and funding across the board; and efforts to eliminate the stigma associated with these conditions, including addiction, demand a major public education campaign. To share your thoughts on these and any other issues, please email our office at

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On Eleanor Roosevelt and Memorial Day

I gave the following remarks at the War Memorial in Hyde Park, NY on Memorial Day 2016.

Thank you for inviting me to join you today to share in the 2016 commemoration of Memorial Day. As you may know, this holiday began in the late 1860s and was first known as Decoration Day, a day set aside in communities across the country to decorate, with flowers and flags, the graves of those who died in the Civil War. It continued as a day to remember and honor our war dead, but it was not until 1971, that Memorial Day became an official federal holiday. That followed the 1966 naming of Waterloo, NY, which had recorded it’s first observance in 1866, as the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

Having the honor of speaking in Hyde Park today, my first instinct, as it so often is, was to look into what former First Lady and personal heroine Eleanor Roosevelt had to say about Memorial Day. What I found was a number of wonderful “My Day” essays, the series of newspaper columns she published six days a week from 1935 to 1962. However, one especially remarkable column written exactly 70 years ago today — on MAY 30, 1946– speaks as clearly to us today as it must have when it was written.

Seven decades ago today, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “This is the first Memorial Day since the end of the war in the Pacific and yet in spite of that fact, many people will say to themselves on Memorial Day: “The world does not seem to be at peace as yet.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

“In this country there will be parades and we will visit graves and cemeteries where lie those who have died for their country in previous wars, and most of us will pray that these years of restlessness may pass and that peace may come again to the world as a whole. I hope, however, that we will do more than pray, because it is going to require a great deal of work … to make of our own country the kind of a country which can … lead the world in its struggles to a peaceful future.

Seventy years ago, she wrote: “When we visit the graves of our soldiers in this country I hope we will think of the cemeteries all over the world where lie our men who died both in this world war and the last, and I hope the panorama of names representing every nation in the world will recall to us that in the United States, our citizens are citizens of the world.

Seven decades ago, she wrote: “We have no room in this country for racial prejudice because our people come from every race and were brought together by an idea — and are made strong as a nation by the fact that we believe in certain democratic ideals.

“There is no room in this nation for religious prejudices either. Men of all races and religions fought the war and died side by side. The men who came back and are now struggling together to make the peace, have a right to equal economic opportunity, to equal justice before the law and to equal participation in our government.

Seventy years ago she wrote: “We are all citizens of the United States and as such dedicate ourselves on Memorial Day to an effort to give to all our soldiers the returns that they are entitled to for the sacrifices which they have made.

“As far as possible, we must insist that our government try to give them the housing and the education which we promised them and then forgot to plan for. Our government must see to it that they have jobs, and above all, that medical care which they may need for many years to come, is available at all times.

And seventy years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote this: “On this Memorial Day too, we might remember to shed a tear for the women in other lands who mourn their dead and their sacrifices, and who perhaps have less cause for hope of better things in the near future than we have. Let us on this Memorial Day hold out a helping hand to all women throughout the world and agree to cooperate with every agency of our government so that another Memorial Day may see us all more securely established in a peaceful world.”

How powerful and how very timely to hear those words written seven decades ago by the former First Lady and human rights activist: “We have no room in this nation for racial prejudice and religious prejudice.”

How prescient to remind our government what we owe to returning veterans — and to recognize government’s failure to this day to prepare adequately for Housing, Education, Jobs and Medical Care for those men and women returning from active duty. I would add that we need to do a better job, as well, providing Mental Health Care for our veterans and their families.

How sensitive to understand the challenges that women across the globe struggled with seventy years ago and how heartbreaking to know that too much hopelessness remains today.

As we pause to remember those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, as well as their families and friends who NEVER forget them, let us also remember the hope of Hyde Park neighbor, Eleanor Roosevelt: “That another Memorial Day may see us all more securely established in a peaceful world.”

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Women’s History: Ten Hudson Valley Stories

Girls growing up today have to look hard to discover the stories of women and girls who came before them. Often primary research is required — seeking out long hidden diaries and well-creased letters, interviewing elderly relatives and neighbors, sleuthing over the handwritten notes on the backs of fading photographs. Women’s stories of bravery, dedication and triumph may be shared in family lore, but they rarely make it into history books and official records.2016 Wms Hist

Equally rare are portraits of these women, especially as we go back in time. For example, there is no known image of Madam Catheryna Brett, a successful 18th century businesswoman whose gracious Dutch-style homestead in Beacon is the oldest existing house in Dutchess County.

Over the centuries, many extraordinary women lived in or traveled through the historic Hudson Valley region, their marks forever inscribed on our nation. Margaret Beekman Livingston bravely carried her family through the Revolutionary War, persevering even when British troops burned her house to the ground. After rebuilding Clermont, now a NY State Historic Site, she went on to host President George Washington and First Lady Martha Washington at her Hudson River home.

One of the 20th century’s major literary figures, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, made Austerlitz her home the last 25 years of her life and her estate, Steepletop, where she is buried, has become a much-loved destination. Pioneering scientist Maria Salmon Mitchell became the first woman astronomer in America and the very first faculty member hired by Vassar College. And more recently, civil rights activist Cecelia Magill led the effort to end employment discrimination from her base in Poughkeepsie.

In celebration of Women’s History Month 2016, I am proud to present our third annual volume, Women’s History in the Hudson Valley: Ten Stories from Columbia and Dutchess Counties, which captures the historic narratives of ten remarkable women who made their homes in Dutchess or Columbia counties. They were artists, activists, scientists and educators. Their stories are part of our region’s history, New York State’s history and American history. Their stories are our stories.

We are pleased to again work with the Mid-Hudson Library System, local school districts and school librarians during Women’s History Month to distribute our booklet.  We thank them for their help and encourage you to stop by your local or school library to pick up a copy and read about the extraordinary lives of these women. Please share these stories with a girl in your life. Girls growing up today deserve to know the important role that women have played throughout our history.  Also, please share the stories of historic women from your community with our office for future volumes!

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Time to Restore Public Trust in Government

As we embark on this new legislative year, I want to address an issue that has been much in the news lately — ethics in Albany. Since first running for office, I have been committed to bringing more transparency, openness and accountability to state government. I strongly believe in public service. I am a full-time legislator. I have never taken per diems or travel funds for doing my job. I believe that the majority of my Assembly colleagues are in government to do the right thing. Nearly half of us were elected since 2010 and most of us ran on restoring public trust in government.

Several ethics reform measures were passed last year in the state budget and are open for public comment as they prepare to go into effect. These include greater disclosure of outside income. With the enactment of this reform, legislators must disclose all of their outside income: From whom they receive it; the services provided; and whether there is any connection to their public duties or state government.

Further, the budget reforms clarified restrictions on the usage of campaign funds for inappropriate items such as residential home purchases, mortgage payments, rent, clothing, tuition, sports tickets, and dues for health and country clubs.

Additional measures, which were passed into law, include changes in the Assembly’s per diem policy. These strengthen the verification method by which members receive per diems and travel reimbursements, discouraging abuse. Personally, since I have been in office, I have refused to accept taxpayer-funded per diems or travel reimbursements. Most of my constituents don’t get paid just for going to work and I don’t believe I should either.

Clearly other meaningful election and ethics reforms are needed. Critical is stripping corrupt politicians of their state pension. I sponsor A.7704, in which convicted public officials would forfeit their pensions. While the two leaders recently convicted will both receive pensions under current law, the Assembly and Senate are working to reach agreement on a constitutional amendment to finally make this change.

Frankly, the most insidious challenge to real ethics reform is the corrosive role of money in politics. The staggering amount of big money raised and spent around  New York state elections breeds distrust. We must reform the system and move toward a model of reasonable contribution limits alongside a limited public financing program to match small private donations.

One thing we can do right away is close the LLC loophole. Under current practice, Limited Liability Companies are treated as individuals, permitting each to contribute up to $150,000 annually. This loophole allows for multiple donations when one person or corporation owns multiple LLCs, exceeding already generous contribution limits and allowing for the influence of corporations above citizenry. Assembly bill A.6975, which I also co-sponsor, would close this loophole. It passed the Assembly with bipartisan support and awaits action from the Senate.

These and other measures are essential to restoring public confidence that the state works for you — not special interests, not self-serving politicians. Government has and can continue to do outstanding and innovative work. At best, elected officials should be in partnership with our constituents and communities. But for any good, healthy partnership to work, there must be trust. I welcome your thoughts on how best to restore public trust in our state government

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Letter to Gov. Cuomo: Wassaic DDSO Site Needs Action!

Dear Governor Cuomo,

I am writing to express my concerns regarding the long delay in finding proper re-use for the Taconic Developmental Disabilities Services Office campus in Amenia’s hamlet of Wassaic.

Over the past two years, I have met with constituents and town leaders who are eager to see the DDSO site brought back to life and once again transformed into a revenue source for the local economy. This institution, now closed, has been an anchor in the Wassaic community and a major employer in this region since as early as 1930. Since its closure in 2014, local residents and potential investors alike have been alarmed to see this magnificent resource, with breathtaking views of the Harlem Valley, deteriorate into a neglected site resulting in dilapidation, vandalism, and deterioration of historic architecture and loss of revenue.

Members of the community have already made major strides in improving the hamlet and many envision a redeveloped DDSO site as a major piece of this progression. However, they remain hesitant to move forward with plans because of the uncertain future of the site. In addition to this uncertainty, there is also a lack of maintenance at the campus. There are reports of an increased number of break-ins, property vandalism, including the theft of copper pipes, insufficient security, a lack of upkeep for the water mains — which could lead to a disastrous break, and no efforts to remediate the known asbestos contamination in the old architecture.

New York has already invested over $31 million in state funding to keep the infrastructure in working condition, including a sewer treatment plant on site which could be built out to service the surrounding community. It would be a significant loss to let that investment fall to the wayside. With the proper zoning already in place and with committed care for the facility — which has been lacking as of late — the remaining 348 acres on this campus could become a perfect spot for an enterprising entrepreneur to invest.

The owners of the non-state held portion of the site have been engaging in discussions with investors eager to transform the campus. Personally, I believe a film or post-production studio for the growing Hudson Valley film industry would be one fantastic use of the space. With its scenic views, proximity to the Wassaic Project, and easy access to the Harlem Line trains, the site is a natural asset for an arts centered smart growth community with plenty of room for housing, studio space, support businesses and farming.

There is great potential for this site, and the time to act is now. We, and the community, have waited for more than a year now for the Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities to consider their options. There is real interest in moving forward and as the representative serving this region, I would be happy to work on exploring re-use to make this facility, once again, a stimulator for our local economy and for New York state.

This letter, sent to Gov. Cuomo on September 21, 2015, was also published in the Poughkeepsie Journal. 

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Albany Session Wrap Up

The just completed legislative session may have filled headlines with the drama of arrests and changing leadership, but for me and most of my colleagues the focus remained on fighting for our districts and passing good laws to benefit the people of New York State. Advocating for our students and schools, protecting our rich farmland, supporting the growing agricultural sector, standing up for our veterans, and pushing for meaningful filename-nys-cap-millionethics reform were among my priorities and we made some real strides over the six month session.

On the education front, we elected an outstanding new Regent, Judith Johnson, to represent Dutchess County on the re-energized Board of Regents and brought more than $245 million to our local schools–a $9.6 million increase over last year. We delivered mandate relief to private and parochial schools in the district and passed legislation I co-sponsored (A.7303-A) that addresses concerns over teacher evaluations and high-stakes testing; extends the deadline for the Regents to adopt and implement a new teacher evaluation system; delinks increases in school aid from implementation; creates a new content review committee to ensure standardized test questions are fair and grade-level appropriate; and gives teachers access to materials to better prepare.

I’m proud that three bills I authored that support local agriculture passed both houses and now await the governor’s signature. These establish a toll tax credit for small to mid-sized farms transporting goods on the Thruway to markets (A.2414); help new farmers gain access to prime farmland (A.2369); and evaluate the needs of aging farmers (A.5153). We secured $20 million specifically to protect farmland in the Hudson Valley, as well as funding for the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, Beginning Farmers NY Fund and Taste NY program.

To  make sure all veterans are recognized equally, I authored and passed legislation that ensures veterans of more recent conflicts in the Middle East and the Global War on Terror receive all appropriate property tax exemptions (A.2368-A). Additionally, I co-sponsored the Veterans Equality Act to expand the New York State public pension credit for all veterans (A.8174-A), and secured $350,000 for the Veterans Entrepreneurial Assistance Program.

I am frankly very disappointed that more wasn’t accomplished in the area of meaningful ethics and campaign finance reform. Since I first ran, I have pushed to substantively address the distrust that current policies foment. This year alone was reason to start breaking down the ethical cloud hanging over us and restore public confidence in state government. The LLC loophole legislation, which I co-sponsored, passed in the Assembly (A.6975-B) but was never brought to a vote in the Senate. This bill, which addressed the aggregate amount of political contributions a limited liability company can make in a year, would help curb the corrupting influence of money in elections and dismantle the power of special interests. The pension forfeiture amendment, keeping elected officials convicted of a felony from collecting their taxpayer funded pension (A.4643-A), was passed in both houses, but in different versions that will need to be reconciled next year, and then passed in a subsequent session before being brought to the public for a November vote.

Clearly, there’s more work to be done in Albany. As your full-time legislator, I am committed to advocating for issues important to the Hudson Valley. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts and concerns.   As always, please don’t hesitate to contact our office in Poughkeepsie (845-454-1703), Hudson (518-828-1961) or via e-mail at, if we can be helpful to you.

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