Bullish on the Hudson Valley. Bullish on New York.

The new year has kicked off in extraordinary fashion, beginning with our district swearing-in — with 200 friends and supporters — as Member of the New York State Assembly representing the new 106th AD. Held at the historic  Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park it was a celebration of the Hudson Valley with local food, drink and talent: The Kuumba Drums and Dancers from Operation Unite in Hudson; Hyde Park resident and voice actor Angela Henry, who read works by Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; and Hudson Valley musicians Eric Rosi-Marshall and Guy Fichetti who played tunes by Hudson Valley composers Pete Seeger, Jeff Anzevino, and Jay Ungar. It was a very special evening for everyone there and I thank my friend Supreme Court Justice Maria Rosa for officiating and my children Alec and Annabel for serving as the hosts.

That celebration segued into the ritual and fun of the opening of the legislative session, the thrill of attending the Governor State of the State for the first time, and then a lovely reception for legislators and their spouses or partners hosted by Governor Cuomo at the gracious 19th century Executive Mansion, the official residence of the Governor of New York.

I was pleased to hear in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State message many of the same themes that I spoke about in my own swearing-in speech.  I’m particularly optimistic that many of his proposals will have a positive impact on the mid-Hudson Valley, notably his TasteNY program which will help our local farms and food producers by spotlighting and promoting what they do so well. I am pleased with his focus on economic development and education, and, having spent my adult life advocating for the empowerment of women and girls, I am especially thrilled that the Governor has made equality, safety and reproductive health a priority of his agenda.

The following are my remarks from the January 5, 2013 swearing-in celebration at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park:

Thank you for joining me and my family on this very special occasion. My election was truly a team effort and I am grateful to all of you for being part of that team. Our victory could not have happened any other way. Your friendship, your phone calls and canvassing, your time spent ringing doorbells at my side, your financial support  — it all added up to a solid, “no questions asked” victory — more than 54% of the vote — in November. I thank you all for making that happen.

Alice Paul being sworn in to vote. 1920 in We Owe Them Everything by Michelle Cahill

Suffragist Alice Paul being sworn in to vote in 1920. 

I am thrilled to have you all here and thrilled to be here in Hyde Park, the home of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, two extraordinary Americans who personify visionary, progressive leadership and the very best of public service. 

I grew up hearing stories from my parents of gathering around the radio to listen to FDR’s reassuring fireside chats.  And my longtime admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt grew from a childhood visit with the beloved “first lady of the world” when she came to tea with my Brownie Troop — back then being a Brownie was the first step to becoming a Girl Scout.  Turned out Eleanor Roosevelt was godmother to one of my fellow troop members. 

And you should know, the FDR Presidential Library, where we are today,  is the nation’s very first US Presidential Library, and it happens to be here in the Hudson Valley — here in Dutchess County. It is a remarkable resource to have in our community and a powerful legacy for all of us to draw upon.  Each of you here today, came in part because you care about our region, our state and our country.  You care, as I do, about  ideas and about making a positive difference in our world.  There are many relevant lessons to be learned from Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their time in the White House and much of that can be found right here.  

We are so very lucky to live, work and love here in the Hudson Valley.  Magical moments happen all the time here — watching a glorious sunset over the River, savoring a view of the Catskills while stuck behind a slow moving farm vehicle, enjoying the charm — and the challenges — of our small towns and communities, reading an historical marker that teaches you something new about the region.  A recent favorite came while driving from Albany across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge on a glorious fall day just as WAMC was finishing it’s last fund drive — and yes I listen to those fund drives.  I was crossing the bridge looking up at Olana nestled in a cocoon of sunlit fall colors and suddenly Kate Smith bursts forth on the radio singing God Bless America.  That happens to be the way the Albany-based NPR station signals it has reached its fundraising goal.  It was gorgeous moment and I got goose bumps. 

As many of you know, I have deep roots in the Hudson Valley as my grandfather and great uncle first bought a farm in Ancramdale, in Columbia County, in 1937.  It was exactly fifty years later that David and I bought our lovely old farmhouse in Dutchess County to which we brought home our two babies, Alec and Annabel.

I am so honored and privileged to represent this awesome district in the New York State Assembly.  This very large — 70 miles from one end to the other — swath of Dutchess and Columbia Counties is truly a snapshot of America.  We have the great city of Hudson and 19 picturesque Towns that range from suburban to very rural.  We have Vassar and Marist colleges, the Culinary Institute of America and two fine Community Colleges – Columbia Greene and Dutchess. We have world-class soils and farmland, critically important small and midsize family farms, and a growing cohort of young farmers who are literally putting down roots to become the next generation to feed New York. We have spectacular natural resources, rich American history, diverse cultural talent and a flourishing tourism industry that recognizes all these assets. 

We have a wide range of small businesses and a strong core of hard-working middle class families.  We have remarkable places doing visionary work like Omega’s Center for Sustainable Living and their new Women’s Leadership Center which attract visitors from around the world.  And we have pioneering projects like Habitat for Humanity’s new passive solar townhouses in Hudson, the first to bring energy efficiency to unprecedented levels in affordable housing.  We also have cutting edge social service providers like the Anderson Center for Autism and the several Camphill communities that serve our more vulnerable neighbors in enlightened and effective ways.

I am truly bullish on the Hudson Valley. I believe this is the Hudson Valley’s moment. We have it all right here.  We simply need to proceed by working collaboratively with wisdom, smart growth principles and a recognition for what makes this region so special.  We can create a sustainable economy with good jobs that stay in the region by engaging the very things we love about living here.

We have a rich history to build upon: Smart innovators from the Shakers to IBM; an industrial past that has rekindled new uses for  neglected places like the thriving Wassaic Project arts center located in an old barn in Amenia just steps from where Gail Borden developed condensed milk. And the Copake Iron Works, being reborn as part of an industrial history site in Taconic State Park, one of 8 state parks and historic sites in my Assembly district.  Nine if you include our views of the marvelous Walkway Over the Hudson.

We bask in magnificent natural resources and biodiversity and we feel passionate about protecting them. The region’s 1962 battle over the proposed siting of a hydro-electric plant at Storm King Mountain marks the birth of the modern environmental movement and  prompted Congress to pass the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, which for the first time required an environmental impact study on major projects.

We have a rich history that includes Native American traditions as well as landmarks from before and during the Revolutionary War. And we have a diverse cultural legacy of music, dance, theatre, and art that includes the Hudson River School of Painting and its iconic artists like Frederick Church, Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Sanford Gifford and others. How many other regions can claim a school of painting?

Perhaps most importantly, we have a talented, hard-working, educated and caring population.  It is a population committed to community. Most of us live here because we choose to; we love this region and we love the sense of community. Folks are engaged in their local schools, their places of worship, their town and village committees and boards.  They are volunteer fire fighters and emergency service providers. They are there for the neighbors in time of need as well as times of joy.  

These are my constituents.  I thank you all for putting your trust in me.


About Diner Dialogues

Didi Barrett was elected to the New York State Assembly in a special election in March 2012 and re-elected to a full term in November 2012. Her district, the 106th AD, covers some of the most beautiful parts of Columbia and Dutchess Counties. She has deep roots in the Hudson Valley and came to elected office after a career as a community activist, writer and longtime leader of not-for-profit organizations. Didi is passionate about the agricultural, natural, cultural and historic resources of the Hudson Valley and their critical importance as economic engines and job generators. She is also a great fan of the iconic diners that dot the region. As a member of the Assembly she serves on the Committees on Aging; Agriculture; Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry; Mental Health; Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development and Veterans Affairs.
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