All Politics are Local: Interview with Steve Otis

In this column I will be interviewing different politicians that represent Rye Brook. I will be asking each politician many of the same questions. I hope that these interviews will help you learn about the people who represent us in government. For my second interview, I spoke with  Steve Otis, New York State Assemblyperson for the 91st District.

Prior to being elected to the Assembly, Otis was Chief of Staff to State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, as well as Mayor of Rye from 1998-2009. Otis was elected to the Assembly in 2013 and was just recently elected to his fourth term in office. Below are some excerpts from our 30 minute interview which took place in late December, 2020.

What or who inspired you to get involved with politics? 

“When I was a kid I knew I wanted to work in public service, not necessarily as an elected official, but in some form. I was fortunate that when I was young I knew what I wanted to do and I’m sure I will do it for the rest of my life.”

What was your career before going into politics?

“After college I knew I wanted to work in government, so I pursued a master’s degree in public administration. Being in that program I applied for a fellowship in the New York State Senate and worked for the Senate for many, many years prior to getting elected to the Assembly. For much of that time I was Counsel and Chief of Staff for State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer.  While working for her I got involved in my local community in Rye. I was on the Conservation Committee and then was Mayor of Rye for 12 years. When Senator Oppenheimer retired 8 years ago I decided to run for the Assembly. All of these things fed into each other in a really nice way.” 

What is your favorite part of the job?

“I like solving problems, I like working on issues and coming up with solutions, one of my biggest concerns is clean water. In 2015 I helped develop a statewide program to provide grants to municipalities to do very expensive clean water projects. That program has been a huge statewide success, it started with 75 million dollars in the first year and in the five years it has been in existence it has given out 1.2 billion dollars in grants, including a great deal of funds to Westchester.

What is your least favorite or most difficult thing about the job ? 

“I really love what I do, I don’t know if I could pick anything I dislike. During Covid, I miss seeing people. I like when there are tough issues, that’s good work, that’s fun, that’s rewarding.”

What Surprised You The Most About The Job?

“I don’t think anything really surprised me about the work that I do. I have been in this field for a long time, so I am not easily surprised. Of course, the pandemic has surprised everybody, it has had such a massive impact on our society and our world. 

How did Covid impact your work?

“Covid related issues are about 90 percent of what I have worked on since March, helping people apply for unemployment,dealing with problems for nursing homes, school districts, local governments, individuals, small businesses, every single one of these categories have their  pandemic-related share of issues. Right now the big concern is the whole vaccine rollout and lots of questions related to that. It is the number one thing that I am working on. We are in a dangerous time, it is hard work, but we want to help as many people as we can. There are many state policies that affect many different types of people, businesses and institutions, so part of my job is to try to make adjustments to make sure things are working correctly.”

Advice For Future Public Servants 

“I think the standard that I recommend, hold myself to, and recommend to others is to  be effective, you’re not just there to spend time, you’re there to get things done. I feel very strongly about getting my bills passed. I am very good about getting legislation passed, getting budget priorities moved, and solving problems for school districts and local governments. I believe the job should be about results and that’s the standard I hold myself to. Whether it is public service or in business, your goal should be, to be successful and effective in what you do.”

Future Goal and Aspirations

“I love the position I have in the Assembly, I am able to be very effective there. My goal is to continue to get things done. One of the big challenges in the upcoming year with the state budget is to see that we have funding to deal with a lot of the environmental things I support. A lot of those are related to public health, like clean water, which  is not just for clean water’s sake, it’s for the quality of water that we drink or for where people recreate using water. Funding for education is also a huge issue, those are probably my goals for the next year.”

Anything else you would like to share with the readers at Blind Brook?

“You have a great school system, because of its size there is a lot of good attention at all grades. You have a very dedicated professional staff, teachers and school board. If you’re growing up in Rye Brook and going to the Blind Brook School System you should appreciate that you’re growing up in a fortunate place, in a caring environment and not everyone has those advantages. So it is something to appreciate the quality of life that you have available to you.